Tourism in a Changing Climate

A friend of POLIS highlights the linkages between water, climate, and tourism business in keynote address

Published On: February 1st, 2024

On January 26, POLIS’ Amanda Merritt, Bridget McGlynn, and Shayla Auld attended a sustainable hospitality and tourism summit in Victoria to hear the keynote address from long-time POLIS friend and collaborator Bob Sandford.

Bob holds the Global Water Futures Chair in Water and Climate Security at the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health. He has also worked closely with POLIS over many years, co-authoring op-eds in major publications, delivering special lectures and participating in discussions at POLIS events. POLIS is proud to support Bob’s work through appearances like his keynote at this year’s sustainable tourism summit, where he speaks and makes linkages with water, watershed security, climate, and the economy.

In his January speech to the second annual Hospitality and Tourism Student Sustainability Summit, Bob emphasized the importance of recognizing our interdependence as it relates to the climate crisis. The summit, co-hosted by Camosun College, Royal Roads University, and Vancouver Island University, was timed to coincide with the IMPACT Sustainability Travel & Tourism conference, and aims to connect students with industry professionals from across Canada.

The Parkside Hotel and Spa in Victoria, B.C. is one of the first hotels in Canada to become biosphere certified. Photo courtesy Parkside Hotel and Spa

Bob addressed the audience at the Parkside Hotel and Spa in Victoria, one of the first hotels in Canada to become biosphere certified, a highly sought-after tourism sustainability designation. Despite the serene beauty of the indoor koi pond and meditative sounds of running water, Bob’s message was a sobering depiction of a climate-changed future, foreshadowing immense challenges for the tourism industry.

“If we want to survive,” Bob said, “we have to act like our lives depend on it, because they do.”

The earth is currently facing the likelihood of a +2.0 C warmer climate and counting, 0.5 C above the climate change mitigation target established by the Paris Agreement in 2015. Exceeding this threshold will mean persistent drought, extreme weather events like wildfire and floods, and an estimated 200 million displaced persons and climate refugees. The priority, Bob argued, is to define the climate crisis as a state of emergency and start by assessing and understanding the threats to human life and biodiversity.

Participants gathered at the IMPACT Sustainability Travel & Tourism conference in Victoria, B.C. January 26, 2024.

The tourism industry has a responsibility to not only establish sustainable standards, Bob told the audience, but also envision an inclusive and equitable future.

“You have the power to promote Canada, not as it is,” he said, “but as it must become.”

The real paradigm-shifting opportunity, he suggested, lies in the nature of tourism itself. By exposing people to the rich diversity of human expression, culture, and tradition (a product of the Earth’s own geo-climatic diversity), tourism allows us to simultaneously appreciate difference and recognize our common human heritage. Travelling and experiencing the world helps us understand our shared humanity and enriches our capacity for empathy and willingness to act for the collective good.

Sarah-Joy Kallós, lead co-organizer of the Summit, said she knew Bob would set the bar high and “help students see what they’re up against in a different way.” She said to POLIS later: “Many students feel it us up to them to change the world, but this is ultimately what Summit and IMPACT are about: connecting students to each other to show them that there are a lot of people out there doing good work, that they’re not alone.”