Nature-based Tour Operator Response to Environmental Change in Juneau, Alaska

Juneau, Alaska
Apr 2013 to Aug 2014

Increasing temperatures are projected to have a positive effect on the length of Alaska’s summer tourism season, but the natural attractions that tourism relies on, such as glaciers, wildlife, fish, or other natural resources, may change. In order to continue to derive benefits from these resources, nature-based tour operators may have to adapt to these changes, and communication is an essential component of the adaptation process. The goal of this study is to determine how to provide useful climate change information to nature-based tour operators by answering the following questions: 1. What environmental changes do nature-based tour operators perceive? 2. How are nature-based tour operators responding to climate and environmental change? 3. What climate change information do nature-based tour operators need? To answer these questions, 24 nature-based tour operators representing 20 different small and medium sized businesses in Juneau, Alaska were interviewed. The results show that Juneau’s nature-based tour operators are observing, responding to, and in some cases, actively preparing for changes in the environment. The types of environmental changes observed depended on the types of resources operators relied on and the way they accessed those resources, but a majority of the operators revealed that the loss of glaciers is a particularly large risk to their businesses and the tourism industry as a whole. Despite the observation of or perception of future risks, nearly a third of nature-based tour operators are not responding to changes in the environment. The remainder of nature-based tour operators was coping with environmental change, by changing their tour activities, expanding existing risk management activities, or participating more generally in conservation activities like recycling and fuel reduction. Only a few of the nature-based tour operators were planning for climate change, and taking strategic approaches to adaptation like including climate change in their business plans or creating a company task force. Using data about certainty in climate change information and the perceived risks to the organization, this study proposes a framework to classify climate change responses for the purpose of generating meaningful information and communication processes that promote adaptation or build adaptive capacity in the tourism sector. The results of this study demonstrate that science communication research has an important place in climate change adaptation and sustainability science.