With climate change posing a potential threat to tourist resorts, the South Pacific islands nation of Fiji has been selected as a pilot country for a series of United Nations-backed projects aimed at helping the tourism sector to adapt to the effects of climate change, ranging from more frequent cyclones to beach-eroding higher sea levels.

Island destinations are particularly prone to the effects of climate change with many of them relying on warm waters and long hours of sunshine to attract tourists to their beaches, and a similar plan is being prepared for the low-lying Indian Ocean island nation of the Maldives, which could be threatened by rising sea levels. Alterations in weather patterns can have a serious impact on the programming of trips, the comfort of tourists and their health.

Extreme climatic events can affect natural attractions, with storm surges and rising sea levels eroding beaches and higher sea temperatures bleaching coral. There is also the increased risk of drought and the possibility of physical damage to both people and property.

The projects will be coordinated by the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in conjunction with the UN Environment Programme (www.unep.org) and the UN Development Programme (www.undp.org), and financed by the Global Environment Facility, an independent financial organization that provides grants to developing countries for projects that benefit the global environment and promote sustainable livelihoods in local communities.

“Addressing the impact of climate change on Small Island Developing States has become a priority, given the heavy dependence of their economies on tourism, their high level of vulnerability and their relatively low adaptive capacity,” the Programme Officer in UNWTO’s Sustainable Development of Tourism Department, Gabor Vereczi told an Agency workshop in the Fijian capital of Suva earlier this month.

“Climate change should not be seen by tourism administrations and businesses as a distant phenomenon, but one that is already affecting destinations and the daily operation of the tourism sector.

“Basic adaptation measures, such as early warning systems and preparedness for cyclones, or the better use of climate information provided by national meteorological services can make a huge difference in preventing and mitigating climate-related risks and hazards,” he added. UNWTO will be further addressing the challenges posed by climate change at a conference on

“Building Tourism Resilience in Small Island Developing States (SIDS),” to be held in the Bahamas capital of Nassau from 7-9 June.