Peak oil & tourism

By Dirk Reiser

How will Peak Oil impact upon Tasmania’s high profile tourism industry and all those stakeholders who depend on tourism for their livelihoods?

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (2010) defines a visitor as ‘a person taking a trip to a destination outside their usual environment for business, leisure or other personal purposes’. From this definition it becomes clear that a visitor has to move away from their home. In the majority of cases, fossil fuels are used to do this.

The aviation industry alone consumes 243 million tomes of fuel/year or 6.3% of world refinery production (Nygren, Aleklett & Hoeoek 2009). Tourism, in particular international tourism, therefore relies heavily on the consumption of oil. Aside from transport, construction for tourism purposes is another high user of fossil fuels.

The relationship between peak oil and tourism, however, is not well-researched despite fossil fuels being vitally important for the very oil intensive tourism industry (Becken 2006; 2010). In the foreseeable future, demand will outstrip the supply of oil or at least cheap oil, therefore creating enormous problems for the globally growing and important tourism industry, destinations and societies.

Within a 60 year period the number of international tourist numbers increased from 25 million in 1950 to 935 million in 2010. It is expected that this number will grow to 1.6 billion by the year 2020 (United Nations World Tourism Organisation 2011). Moreover, IPK International (2011) estimates that humans took 9.8 billion global domestic and outbound trips.

Travelling is still very much a privilege of the rich in the developed world who are already over-using a number of available resources. This will have to change, in particular as there are more and more people from developing countries ‘joining’ in on the pleasure of experiencing a holiday – or economically poorer groups of the global society will be squeezed out of the travel market by rising costs.

Tourists, the tourism industry and destinations will have to change to adjust to the situation where oil becomes more expensive. However, research on the topic is very limited and tourism forecasts rarely consider price hikes or oil shortages as an important factor (Becken 2010).

In summary, the impact of less affordable oil is complex and difficult to assess, but it appears that an interdisciplinary approach to understand the many dimensions of the relationship between oil and tourism is essential in order to be able to manage the associated risk – especially for highly transport dependent long-haul destinations like Australia in general, and Tasmania in particular.

New Zealand researcher Susanne Becken has studied the link between peak oil and tourism at great length. Click the link for a list of her studies.
Fuelling Tourism
Susanne Becken slide presentation
Environment-friendly Tourists: What Do We Really Know About Them?
Tourism and climate change: risks and opportunities

(Dirk Reiser is researcher at the University of Tasmania specialising in recreation and related issues. He is also on the Board of Directors of Sustainable Living Tasmania.)