Tourism Resilience: More Than Just “Bouncing Back” from Adversity

This month we are publishing Tourism and Resilience by C. Michael Hall, Girish Prayag and Alberto Amore. In this post the authors explain the concept of resilience in tourism and comment on their case study of the Great Barrier Reef.

The environment seems to be becoming increasingly challenging for tourism businesses, destinations, and the people who work and live in them. In 2017 alone we have seen a range of weather and climate change related events, including severe hurricanes in the United States and the Caribbean, as well as in Ireland, while at the same time there have been major forest fires in the western United States and in Portugal. We also have political concerns in the form of terrorism, Brexit, the Trump administration, North Korea, and multi-national tax avoidance, while at the same time tourism is having to respond to economic and technological shifts such as automation, big data, and disruptive innovation.

Resilience is the magnitude of disturbance that can be tolerated before a system moves to a different state, controlled by a different set of processes. Given the challenges of crises and disasters, as well as ongoing “normal” change, for tourism, it is no surprise that the concept of resilience is seen as a response to the call for new definitions, concepts and understandings to frame the many ecological, socio-economic and political challenges of tourism. Resilience thinking is therefore a response to the urgent need for broader and different views of the tourism system. This clearly includes destination management at large, as the vulnerability of places and communities can no longer be ignored, but also considers how businesses and individuals are connected both within and beyond destinations.

The notion of a tourism system is widely used in tourism education and research but often there is not enough consideration of what this really means in looking at the sector as a whole, as well as how it responds to change. The aim of our book therefore is to provide scholars and practitioners with a multi-layered view of resilience from individual, organizational and destination perspectives. We take a multi-disciplinary approach to develop the first monograph on tourism and resilience. As well as a strong analytical and theoretical focus, and a comprehensive discussion of the literature, the book builds on the authors first-hand tourism research from post-earthquake Christchurch, New Zealand, and other locations, and includes a range of different cases from around the world to illustrate key ideas and concepts.

A key message of the book is that tourism resilience is more than just “bouncing-back” from adversity. Every destination and tourism business goes through incremental and sudden change, and we identify inherent vulnerabilities in the tourism system and how they can be managed. To a certain extent, resilience in tourism reinforces principles and notions inherent to sustainable tourism. Resilience thinking is valuable because of its focus on connectedness and the need to move away from the continual separation of ecological, social and economic impacts. However, while some may see resilience as the “new sustainability” it is important to note that, although related, resilience thinking has its own specific contributions regarding the capacity to absorb change, learning and self-organisation, and adaptation. As part of developing a better understanding of the tourism system, considerations of resilience in tourism therefore need to think of what is happening at scales above and below the main level of focus in order both to explain change and, in some cases, to intervene to create desired change.

The case of the Great Barrier Reef is an emblematic example. The bleaching of the reef as a result of climate change has put a renowned tourist and natural heritage site in grave danger. However, the capacity of the reef to adapt is also affected by pollution and run-off from onshore practices. To understand the problems the reef faces one therefore needs to be able to understand the global dimension of climate change as well as realise that a marine system is deeply affected by what happens on land. System management must therefore be not only multi-scaled but also recognise the very real implications of connectivity to what some may have previously regarded as being “outside” of reef management. The future of many tourism stakeholders as well as the reef ecosystem is at stake and there is a need for systemic long-term destination planning to enhance the resilience of resource and the destination. As we note in the book, sustainable development can only be achieved in sufficiently resilient socio-ecosystems. Resilience allows a system to have a future, but this requires a much better appreciation of the nature of the tourism system and the importance of system thinking than what has usually been the case. In other words, government and other authorities need to see the pressures on the Great Barrier Reef in the context of “joined up” problems rather than seeing land management, reef management, and climate change policy as being separate.

This notion of connecting the pieces is central to the book. Change – moving from one state to another – is actually the norm in tourism as elsewhere. But what is important, from an industry and ethical perspective, is what sort of change and what sort of state we want to move to and how we are going to get there. Hopefully, this book will help provide some sort of frame by which we can inform and improve our thinking about change and direction in tourism as well as how we are going to get there.

Alberto Amore, Girish Prayag and C. Michael Hall

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Crisis and Disaster Management for Tourism by Brent W. Ritchie.