How a changing climate impacts the visitor economy

La Trobe University’s Albury-Wodonga campus is inviting business operators to take part in a new research project exploring the impacts of a changing climate on freshwater tourism.

Business operators with a broad connection to the visitor economy, particularly those with direct and indirect connections to freshwater tourism, are being invited to take part in the research project.

Businesses could include those providing canoe, kayak, jet ski or paddle board hire, nature-based tours, fishing competitions and sailing regattas, and accommodation providers, cafes and restaurants and wedding celebrants.

Dr Heather Downey is based at La Trobe University’s Albury-Wodonga campus and is leading the research team with Associate Professor Evelien Spelten.

Dr Downey is encouraging local businesses dependent on the visitor economy to participate in a focus group, or an individual interview, to explore the experience of environmental change for these businesses, how such change has impacted individuals and businesses and how businesses may be adapting.

“Tourism contributes just as much to the economy as the agriculture sector, yet the voices of tourism operators are rarely heard when it comes to discussions surrounding changing environmental conditions,” Dr Downey said.

“Media reports on the impacts of a changing climate are often dominated by agricultural issues, but the impacts of environmental change can be felt just as keenly by other important sectors such as tourism.”

Albury-Wodonga’s unique water features include Lake Hume, the Murray River and Wonga Wetlands, which attract visitors to the region.

People visit to fish, canoe, celebrate, enjoy beautiful Indigenous sculptures while walking the Crossing Place Trail and Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk, and to photograph the birdlife at Wonga Wetlands.

The region’s freshwater features provide recreational benefits and tourism opportunities that are critical to the region’s economic, social, and environmental sustainability.

However, the impacts of long periods of drought and the 2019/2020 bushfires, and most recently the disastrous effects of flooding, affect the quality and quantity of freshwater locally.

Future projections suggest increasing severity of weather events; a scenario that has considerable implications for the visitor economy.

The research team hopes that business operators will tell them about the importance of aquatic sites to their businesses, the changes in the environment, particularly the lake, river and wetlands they have noticed, and how these changes are affecting their operations.

“We want to know the importance of a healthy natural environment to sustaining healthy businesses, and people’s thoughts and visions for the future of tourism in the area,” Dr Downey said.

“We want to give a voice to local business operators broadly connected to freshwater, including accommodation providers, by exploring their relationships with the natural environment.”

This project is funded by the Joss Family Bursary for Research Excellence and is supported by Albury and Wodonga councils.

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