|Changes to our climate could have profound implications for tourism, the leisure industry, as well as the wider visitor economy. Having a better understanding of those future impacts and how best to adapt to them is critical. This study is the first attempt in the UK to systematically assess the likely impacts of climate change on this important and fast growing economic sector (currently worth £7bn to the region). The central question addressed by the research was:
How can the visitor economy realise the opportunities presented by climate change, whilst ensuring that the resource base is sustained under growing visitor demand and climate related reductions in environmental capacity? The focus of the work was on the Northwest of England but the lessons learnt are of much wider relevance. One of the issues examined was the relationship between weather, climate and visitor behaviour. Until recently, the common belief that the warmer, drier summers brought about by climate change would stimulate a boom in visitor numbers, has not been questioned. However, the relationship between climate and visitor demand is complicated, and the economic opportunities may not be this straightforward. Although based on limited data, the research findings suggest that recreational behaviour in the Northwest appears to be fairly resilient to the weather – this resonates with other recent research findings internationally. Climate influence on visitor behaviour is more likely to be overshadowed by socio-economic trends, particularly how we choose to spend our leisure time in the future. Whilst the impact of climate change on visitor demand remains uncertain, the landscapes they visit will come under increasing threat. England’s Northwest has a diverse range of visitor resources, from metropolitan areas to high quality natural landscapes. The most vulnerable of these landscapes also tend to be those that hold most appeal for visitors, and as such they are already under considerable pressure. Climate change is likely to further impair their ability to accommodate visitors. Responding to this challenge will require measures that sustain the environmental capacity of these valued landscapes whilst developing new opportunities in less vulnerable locations. Although demand management is likely to become increasing important, particularly in relation to road congestion in the worst affected parts of the region, a more effective response may be to direct adaptation efforts to landscape protection and sustaining visitor access. This will, however, require significant investment. The research focused on four case studies to evaluate capacity issues at the more detailed landscape scale. These were footpath erosion in the Lake District National Park, moorland wildfire risk in the Peak District National Park, city centre Manchester and, most relevantly for the Coastal Practice Network, the integrity of the Sefton Coastal Dune System. Conclusions of the Sefton case study were that changes to climate and visitor behaviour may bring new opportunities to Sefton and, more widely, to the regional economy. However, the ecological challenge to the dune system will be severe. An extension in time and space of current physical and biological monitoring is required to provide essential management information. This monitoring should also include systematic recording of visitor numbers. Fortunately, a proven management mechanism – the Sefton Partnership – is already in place to provide the required adaptive capacity. The Sefton Coast Management Scheme was originally developed on the principle that the great majority of visitors, especially at peak times, are there to visit the coast rather than the dunes and, as such, it is possible to manage visitor flows and protect the ecological integrity of the dune habitats. The scheme acquired an international reputation for reconciling visitor pressure with conservation needs along a dune coastline – a new opportunity now exists for the Sefton Partnership to provide an international demonstration project for anticipating and managing the response to a changing climate.