James Cook University and CSIRO researchers say tourism operators on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) want to talk to their guests about climate change but are often uncertain how go about it.
JCU’s Jeremy Goldberg interviewed 19 operators in the Whitsundays and Cairns, building on previous work that found tourists wanted clear information about the threats to the Reef.
He said tourism operators have an ideal audience and setting to provide information about the Reef, its management, and threats to its future.
“The original study showed 73% of tourists are keen to learn more about the condition of the GBR and 78% would like to do more to help protect the GBR. But while sharing accurate information creates a greater desire to preserve the environment among GBR visitors, climate change has become a highly political issue,” he said.
Dr. Goldberg said that 13 out of 19 tourism operators interviewed believed climate change was ‘an immediate threat requiring action,’ and all believed it presented some kind of threat.
“The operators believed they had a role to play in influencing public opinion about the conservation of the GBR. But some were reluctant to discuss climate change with tourists and they had mixed views on the actions they could take to address climate change on the reef,” he said.
Dr. Goldberg said tourist numbers are a primary concern for tourism operators and many of the businesses believe that climate change stories in the media will ‘scare away’ guests.
“Operators expressed a mixture of views on whether it’s best to confront this perception or avoid the discussion entirely,” he said.
However, CSIRO and JCU-affiliated co-author Matt Curnock, noted that recent research has shown that 93% of GBR tourists believe tourism operators should be contributing to reducing impacts to the GBR, and 56% consider the ‘green credentials’ of an operator when choosing a tour. Consequently, most tourists are ready and willing to be engaged about threats to the GBR.
The researchers said there are ways around the problem, primarily by positively framing discussions about climate change.
“This includes highlighting the world-class management already underway in the GBR, that abating climate change requires everyone to act, and that an opportunity exists to inspire GBR visitors to support this process and encourage others to do the same when they return home,” said Dr. Curnock.