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How will climate change impact recreational resources and tourism-dependent communities?

What are tourists’ and tourism stakeholders’ climate change risk perceptions?

Can climate change visualizations facilitate planning and development decisions that protect valued assets?

Climate change will have major implications on tourism destinations, altering the natural and cultural resources that attract visitors, the activities and services desired by visitors, and the agencies, organizations and businesses that provide those activities and services. Our research integrates climate science in ways that stakeholders can enhance resilience by prioritizing their assets, understanding their vulnerabilities, and developing mitigation and adaptation strategies. These efforts foster sustainable recreation and tourism development through informed and inclusive decision-making, the creation of strong partnership networks, and the bridging of transboundary institutions. In our research, we assess changes in recreation and tourism demand through visitor surveys, perceptions of valued assets and risks through community member interviews, and the influences of information during focus groups, planning meetings and outreach workshops. We conduct this research in diverse geographies, including coastal zones and mountainous regions at regional, national and international scales.

The envisioned outcomes

• Enhanced community resilience to changing natural and cultural resource conditions.
• Conserved natural resources and outdoor recreational experiences.
• Preserved cultural heritage and connections to place.
• Inclusive planning efforts and informed decision-making.


Erin Seekamp
Carla Barbieri
Yu-Fai Leung

Postdoctoral researchers

Sandra Fatorić

Current graduate students

Ginger Deason
Malorey Henderson
Matthew Jurjonas
Allie McCreary
Karly Bitsura-Meszaros

Featured Project: Building Climate Readiness within the Recreation and Tourism System on the North Shore of Lake Superior, MN

Their Mission?

erin seekamp taking notes on white board

Erin Seekamp taking notes during a focus group with recreation and tourism providers (photo credit: K. Bitsura-Meszaros).

Dr. Erin Seekamp, in collaboration with Allie McCreary (doctoral student, PRTM, NC State) and faculty, graduate students and undergraduate research assistants from the University of Minnesota, Utah State University, and Carleton College, are working to build tourism-dependent communities’ climate readiness within the “North Shore” region of Minnesota.

karly bitsura-meszaros, karen katz and allie mccreary

Karly Bitsura-Meszaros, Karen Katz (master of science student, University of Minnesota), and Allie McCreary during winter survey sampling (photo credit: K. Bitsura-Meszaros).

Using winter and summer tourist surveys administered on-site with iPads, they presented visitors with predicted changes to climate and environmental conditions (e.g., snow depth, daily high and low temperatures, ice thickness, abundance of trout in streams) to examine the influences of climate change beliefs, risk perceptions, recreational substitutability, and place connections on current and future travel behaviors. The capacity of North Shore region communities to adapt to these changing conditions within the recreation and tourism system were also assessed through interviews and focus groups with recreation managers, tourism providers, local government and tourism authorities, representatives from nongovernmental organizations, and other concerned citizens. Karly Bitsura-Meszaros (doctoral student, PRTM, NC State) conducted a participatory geospatial assessment during the focus groups and assessed the climate adaptation capacity of regional management plans as the crux of her Master’s in Outdoor Recreation thesis (2015, CNR, NC State).

Why does this matter?

paddle boarding lessons

Paddle boarding lessons in Grand Marias Harbor (photo credit: K. Bitsura-Meszaros).

Coastal communities are particularly exposed to climate change and associated ecological impacts, requiring them to identify and engage diverse resources and mechanisms to prepare for and respond to environmental change. In the case of nature-based tourism-dependent communities like those along the north shore of Lake Superior, tourism and recreation systems—the economic drivers of the region—are especially susceptible. Climate-related impacts to tourism and recreation systems take multiple forms, including cataclysmic events (e.g., flooding) or slow, incremental changes in conditions over time (e.g., decreased snow depths) can influence when tourists visit and the types of recreational activities in which they engage. Additionally, the perception of risk associated with climate and ecological impacts also can affect the frequency and timing of visitation.

high water at gooseberry falls

High water at Gooseberry Falls State Park (photo credit: K. Bitsura-Meszaros).

Changes in recreation demand can also influence how recreation sites are managed, as well as how visitors spend money at recreation sites and within adjacent communities. Research illustrates that climate-related changes in recreation demand (i.e., tourist behaviors, preferences, and expenditures) are complex but that a threshold of critical acceptability in climate conditions exists (i.e., there is a point at which recreationists would no longer visit given a specified level of change to the environment and climate).  Therefore, modeling changes in recreation demand and destination risk can enhance nature-based tourism-dependent communities’ and recreation managers’ adaptive capacity given alternative climate futures.

Our results confirm the complexities of predicting changes in visitation demand. Some tourists will visit less frequently while

split rock lighthouse

Split Rock Lighthouse, Split Rock State Park (photo credit: K. Katz).

others will visit more frequently, and many tourists will not change the number of times they visit per season. Our analyses also revealed that winter and summer tourists identify strongly with the North Shore, and that place meanings are related to future trip-taking behaviors as well as visitors’ willingness-to-pay for climate adaptation planning efforts on the North Shore.

This research project is the result of research sponsored by the Minnesota Sea Grant College Program supported by the NOAA office of Sea Grant, United States Department of Commerce, under grant No. R/CC-05-14. For more information, please visit our project website.

Examples of Recent Publications from PRTM Faculty in the area of Climate Change and Tourism-dependent Community Resilience

Smith, J., E. Seekamp, A. McCreary, M. Davenport, M. Kanazawa, K. Holmberg, B. Wilson, J. Nieber. 2016. Shifting demand for winter outdoor recreation and tourism along the North Shore of Lake Superior under variable rates of climate change: A finite-mixture modeling approach. Ecological Economics, 123: 1-13.

Bitsura-Meszaros, K., A. McCreary, J. W. Smith, E. Seekamp, M. A. Davenport, J. Nieber, B. Wilson, D. H. Anderson, C. Messer, and M. Kanazawa. 2015. Examining tourism destination risk and community adaptive capacity along the north shore of Lake Superior. Michigan Journal of Sustainability, 3: 111-119.

Smith, J. W., Y.-F. Leung, E. Seekamp, C. Walden-Schreiner, and A. Miller. 2015. Projected impacts to the production of outdoor recreation opportunities across state park systems in the US due to the adoption of a domestic climate change mitigation policy. Environmental Science & Policy, 48: 77-88.

Deason, G. G., E. Seekamp, and C. Barbieri. 2014. Perceived impacts of climate change, coastal development and policy on oyster harvesting in the southeastern United States. Marine Policy, 50: 142-150.