The Regional Impacts of Climate Change

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Tourism is one of the most important sectors of the economies of many small island states in the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific and Indian Oceans; the industry is equally important to the Mediterranean island of Malta. In some Caribbean countries, the annual number of long-staying visitors (i.e., excluding cruise ship arrivals) far exceeds the size of the resident population; in some cases, the ratio of tourists to residents is greater than 2:1 (e.g., approximately 3:1 in Antigua and almost 6:1 in the Bahamas; see Caribbean Tourism Organization, 1996). Tourism also is the largest single contributor to GNP in many islands. In 1995, for instance, this sector accounted for 69% and 53% of GNP in the Caribbean islands of Antigua and the Bahamas, respectively, and more than 10% in most other islands in the region. Tourism also earns valuable foreign exchange for these islands; the sector earned US$180 million in 1995 in the Maldives-more than 70% of the country's total foreign exchange earnings for that year. Moreover, tourism generates significant employment in many islands, such as the Bahamas-where three-quarters of the labor force is employed, directly or indirectly, in providing services to the industry (Box 9-5).

Box 9-5. Importance of Tourism in the Economies of the Bahamas and the Maldives


  • Accounts for 40% of gross domestic product (GDP)
  • Earns approximately US$1.3 billion in foreign exchange
  • Estimated to account for more than 50% of all government revenues
  • Employs approximately 50% of labor force directly, another 25% in related services.


  • Accounts for 18% of GDP
  • Earns approximately US$181 million in foreign exchange
  • Accounts for 32.5% of all government revenues
  • More than 25% of labor force employed directly in tourism.
Sources: Ministry of Tourism, Commonwealth of the Bahamas; Ministry of Tourism, Republic of the Maldives (1995 data).

Tourism is so vital to many small island societies that when there is contraction in the industry (and, hence, reduced earnings), the rate of national economic growth often declines. In such circumstances, provision of many essential services would be jeopardized, and other vital sectors (e.g., health, education, and welfare)-whose budgetary allocations may be influenced by tourism earnings-also may be affected.

Climate affects tourism in many ways, directly and indirectly. Loss of beaches to erosion; inundation; degradation of ecosystems and related impacts (e.g., loss of coral reefs to bleaching, saline intrusion); and damage to critical infrastructure are only a few consequences that could undermine the tourism resource base of vulnerable small island states (Alm et al., 1993). Although some of these impacts also can be triggered by non-climate-related factors, there is a growing consensus that climate change is likely to precipitate such changes, and that they would be disruptive (Holthus et al., 1992; Pernetta, 1992; Sestini, 1992; IPCC, 1996, WG II, Box 9-3; SPREP, 1996). There is evidence that any such dislocation in the tourism sector would have severe repercussions for the economic, political, and sociocultural life of many small islands.

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