Effects of changes in climate and land cover on Tanzanian nature-based tourism in national parks : How are tourist attractions affected?

Hassan, Halima Kilungu


The impacts of environmental change are generally recognised as the major threats to humans and biodiversity. With respect to nature-based tourism (NBT), the impact of environmental change not only changes the types and distributions of tourist attractions but also interfere with tourists’ comfort and safety. In Tanzania, some environment impact assessments are available, but these do cover neither NBT nor specific attractions and destinations. A major knowledge gap is that tourist attractions are poorly defined in coarse categories, such as ‘wildlife’, without details on types or species, and knowledge on how individual attractions are rooted in the environmental properties in which they occur. This knowledge gap is primarily related to the current lack of approaches to link individual attractions with their supporting environments (i.e. microclimate, soil, water and vegetation types and hydrology).

My thesis fills this knowledge gap as it assesses how tourist attractions react to climate and land-cover change for the key Tanzanian NBT destinations: Serengeti and Kilimanjaro National Parks. To achieve this, Chapter 2 reviews and synthesizes the major factors that drove the Tanzanian NBT since the 19th century. This review provides the state-of-the-art information on the Tanzanian contemporary NBT and its destinations.

Subsequently, I developed a tourism-resource assessment approach referred to as the ‘eco-parcel’ approach (Chapter 3). The eco-parcel approach is a three-step approach that classifies tourist attractions in fine categories and firmly links individual attractions with their supporting environments of discrete landscape patches. Each well-described discrete landscape patch is an eco-parcel. An eco-parcel is a landscape patch with distinct physical features on which one or multiple attractions occur and whose supporting environmental properties are known. I applied the eco-parcel approach in Serengeti National Park (SENAPA) and Kilimanjaro National Park (KINAPA) to identify all attractions in details. ‘Wildlife’ is now classified into types and species. In addition, plants and physical features are as well identified as key attractions for NBT. The eco-parcel approach uses land-cover type as a proxy to link attractions with their supporting environment so that land-cover change would be an approximate of environmental change. I use this link to assess the impacts of environmental change on individual tourist attractions and tourism in KINAPA and SENAPA (Chapters 4 and 5).

Chapter 4 assesses the impacts of climate and land-cover change on the physical and sightseeing aspects of trekking in KINAPA for the past forty years. Trekking is the main tourism activity in KINAPA and sightseeing is an add-on to the experience. In this Chapter, I use a hazard-activity pairs approach to link trekking with the impacts of environmental change, especially changes in climate and land cover. Hazard-activity pairs’ is an approach to structure the analysis of the complex interactions between environmental change and tourism for particular destinations. Chapter 5 assesses the implications of climate and land-cover change on the key tourist attractions and tourism in SENAPA for the past forty years. I focus on wildebeest migration as the key tourist attraction although important attractions in SENAPA are many (cf. Chapter 3). In this chapter, I use the inferential statistics approach to make judgments on the probability of causal relationships between happened environmental impacts and observed changes on attractions through climate and land-cover statistical analysis. In Chapters 4 and 5, an increase in a specific land-cover type suggests an increase in types and distribution of attractions supported therein. Land cover is a basis for wildlife and plant to breed and grow. An adverse change in land-cover types is, therefore, an indicative threat to tourist attractions.

Chapter 2 shows that environmental change is a root cause for the substantial changes in tourist attractions and, in turn, motives and preferences of tourists visiting Tanzania. As such, tourism activities changed from trophy hunting to mass tourism and finally, to environmental friendly tourism. These trends changed the management of tourism destinations from open areas and game reserves (mainly for hunting) or forest reserves (forest products) to national parks (mainly for experience tourism) to minimise the impacts and conserve wildlife.

Chapter 3 concludes that, first; wildlife is not the only key attractions for NBT contrary to what is well-known. Attractions are diverse and the relative importance of each attraction for tourism varies widely. For instance, wildebeest migration and snow are indeed the key attractions but not the only important attractions in SENAPA’s and KINAPA’s tourism respectively. I found, however, high ratings for other identified attractions, such as big cats and kopjes in SENAPA, and high altitude, wildlife and flowers in KINAPA. These findings imply that assessing the relative importance of each attraction adds value in environmental-change impacts assessment from a tourism perspective. These details are likely to lead into the conservation of attractions at risk that have high tourism potential but are simultaneously marginalised in traditional and coarse assessments. Second, attractions emerge from and are connected to specific characteristic environments. This means that these characteristic environments regulate the attractiveness (e.g. breeding, migration or flowering) of many attractions. The spatial link between individual attractions and land-cover types enables the eco-parcel approach to localise the impacts assessment to individual attractions in time and space. The magnitude of environmental impacts on attractions, however, varies depending on their capacity to adapt, behaviour, sensitivity and resiliency.

Chapter 4 shows that both, climate change and variability and land-cover change have positive and negative impacts on Mount Kilimanjaro’s tourism. Trekking is its key tourism activity and it needs conducive weather and preferably dry weather conditions and other attractions to enhance the trekking experience. Consequently, trekking Mount Kilimanjaro is mostly done during the dry months of June and September to avoid the long-rain period of March through May. The results indicate that mean annual temperature increased by 1.3oC (p< 0.05) between 1973 and 2013 and no significant trend for annual rainfall. Rainfall’s seasonality, however, did change with backward shift from May to March. This change extends the favourable trekking conditions. Moreover, land-cover changed substantially. This change has had substantial impacts on the extent and distribution of tourist attractions and, in turn, trekking experience. Heathlands that are known to attract tourists because of their flowers and giant groundsels, have increased by 38% and currently covers most of the Shira plateau. The montane forests that are also known to attract tourists because of their rich attractions including, Black-and-White Colobus monkey, birds and other wildlife species and high-crest waterfalls, have decreased by 15% in the past two decades. Snow cover, which is the mountain’s second most attraction, lost more than 50% of its extent in the last two decades.

As these changes resonate with previous studies, in the short-term, the rapid decline in snow is likely to add to the mountain’s appeal through an increase in ‘last chance tourism’ (i.e. tourism in disappearing destinations). Warmer temperatures and reduced rainfall create better trekking conditions. In the long-term, however, the loss of snow and the montane forest cover will likely decrease the number of tourists. With this knowledge, I argue that climate and land-cover change should be considered more systematically and interactively to device appropriate management practices to adapt the Tanzanian NBT sector to current and future impacts.

In Chapter 5, the key findings are that since the 1970s climate and land cover have changed significantly with potential influence on wildlife migration tourism and tourist comfort in SENAPA. Temperature has warmed by 0.8oC (i.e. approximately .0.2oC per decade). Mean monthly minimum and maximum temperature during the high tourism season (June to September) shifted from 17.5oC and 28.1oC in the 1970s to 18.3oC and 28.7oC in the 2000s. As a result, daily temperatures during high tourism season sometimes exceed 30oC. This rise likely interferes with comfort temperature (~21oC to 30oC) adapted for outdoor tourism activities. Rainfall totals have become highly variable despite long-term data showing no significant change. The rainfall amount received in different zones within the park varied substantially. In the northwest and eastern Serengeti, the amount of annual rainfall received in the short-rain season of October through December increased by 8%, while in the south-central Serengeti rainfall decreased by 4%. In the long rain season of March through May, the rainfall decreased by 5% in the northwest-eastern and increased by 6% in the southern-central zone. Furthermore, savannah grasslands, which form the main food for wildebeest migration, increased by 21% between 1970 and 2010. Woodlands and the riparian forests, which are the alternative food during the critical dry season, decreased by 87% and by 30% respectively. The surface water (i.e. lakes Ndutu and Magadi) shrank by 14%.

As these changes resonate with previous studies, the implications of these results in SENAPA’s tourism include disruption of wildebeest migration patterns and timing. The disruption makes fulfilling tourists’ expectations to see wildebeest migration tourism to experience a challenge. Wildebeest-migration tourism is largely conducted between December and March in the southern-central Serengeti when the wildlife synchronously breeds and between June and September in northern Serengeti when the migration aggregates along the Mara River and ready to migrate to the Masai Mara in Kenya. The findings in Chapter 5 imply that this calendar is slowly changing and affects tourism. Personal communication in 2013 with park ecologist and tourism wardens acknowledge that the odds of delayed migration in the southern and northern Serengeti have increased and sometimes make tourism a chaotic experience. In the future, the likeness for tourists to visit Serengeti only to find no migration is increasing. Strategies to adapt tourism to the impacts of climate and land-cover change require active and integrated management approaches to improve or maintain the park’s attractiveness. The results in Chapters 4 and 5 can be used to develop climate and land-cover change adaptation strategies to inform tourism planning.

The pioneering environmental-change impact assessments presented in my thesis bring new methods and mindset to NBT researches. This assessment is timely and indispensable. Very few studies exist that quantify the implications of environmental change on the Tanzanian NBT. My research potentially makes a substantial contribution to science and society. A detailed temporal and spatial link between tourists and attractions, and between attractions and their supporting environments provides a platform to assess the impacts of weather or climate change and land-cover change on individual tourist attractions. Chapters 4 and 5 demonstrate that the eco-parcel approach developed in Chapter 3 supports impacts assessment and allows the inclusion of tourists’ and other stakeholders’ perspectives or interests to support their decision-making process.

My research, therefore, presents the eco-parcel approach as a generic tourism-resources assessment approach that can be used to study the impacts of environmental change on attractions in any tourism destination. The eco-parcel approach is timely. It provides NBT and recreation sectors with reliable spatial and temporal tourist attractions information to support impacts assessment. The spatial link between individual attractions with their characteristics environments not only allows to assessing changes in the distribution of attractions but also determine the attractions likely to be lost or gained when environment changes. With the ongoing rapid rate of forest loss and snow melting, the odds of complete loss of key attractions increase. I, therefore, argue that the impacts of environmental change on individual attractions and, in turn, NBT should not be ignored.

Because attractions emerge from and are connected to specific environments, the integration of remote sensing in data collection and GIS-data analysis tool within the eco-parcel approach to determine changes on attraction is not an option. In fact, the majority of tourism destinations in developing countries are located in remote areas that are either difficult to access or poorly equipped with weather stations. As such, to acquire long-term environmental data including climate and types of attractions is difficult. This situation presents a challenge in addressing the impacts of environmental change on NBT in Africa’s tourism destinations. The IPCC 2014 and 2007 Africa reports acknowledge this knowledge gap. The use of land-cover within the eco-parcel approach makes a substantial contribution to tourism researches. Land-cover data are often freely acquired from satellites. Thus, the link between attractions and specific land-cover types makes the eco-parcel approach a model and a cost-effective approach to assessing the impacts of environmental change on NBT. The eco-parcel approach is the key contribution to the scientific arena

My thesis informs the importance of the NBT sector to adapt to the impacts of environmental change. The tourism sector has long taken climate and environmental change for granted. This has hindered the mainstreaming of climate and environmental change adaptation in tourism management, planning and policies, particularly in Africa. My thesis is, therefore, timely to inform at least the three on-going policy processes. First, most Tanzanian National Parks are reviewing or about to review their general management plans and information provided in my thesis particularly the discussed impacts and implications of changing climate and land cover on tourist attractions is a valuable input. Second, Tanzania is reviewing its almost twenty-year-old tourism policy from 1999 and my research argues that the new policy should pay serious attention to the effects of environmental change. Third, in April 2018 Tanzania ratified the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, which not only covers mitigation but also adaptation. The discussion in my thesis about the tourism-specific adaptation plans and diversification of tourism products to match with the current rate of environmental change may be taken as part of Tanzania’s adaptation efforts.

In conclusion, my thesis quantified the impacts of environmental change on tourist attractions by using empirical environmental data (i.e. climate and land-cover) and societal data (i.e. tourist visits and preferences). Although I acknowledge that my research alone will not solve all the environmental problems that Tanzanian NBT face, my research process and methods bring innovations in tourism-resources and environmental impact assessments. In addition, my research also provides insights on how to (1) identify the impacts, (2) proactively address the impacts on individual attractions and (3) identify opportunities to invest and adapt. This knowledge is indispensable to informing decisions and actions to better manage individual attractions and the Tanzanian NBT under the current rate of environmental change.