How Australia climate change affects vacations

“I don’t think there are many people prepared to keep their phone on 24 hours a day,” says Susie de Carteret, founder of our partner Tasmanian Odyssey. But when Susie sends vacationmakers out to Tasmania on trips, her mobile is always fully charged. “There is no such thing as switching off your phone anymore. As long as I’ve got guests on vacation, I’ll keep it on.”

In 2022 torrential floods flooded southern Australia, including Tasmania. A bridge in Loongana, on the north-west of the island, was completely washed away. It left the community without a road in or out for six weeks – and Susie had two guests staying in a wilderness lodge in the area. Guests who needed to fly back.

Extracting them, and getting them safely on their plane, took a community. Luckily, Susie knows just who to call – even for an out-of-hours emergency. “The hotel manager moved heaven and earth,” she says.

The only way out was a private forestry road, which added a five-hour detour. Whilst her vacationmakers were enjoying days of uninterrupted wildlife watching, behind the scenes, a whole chain of people stepped into gear to help them.

This trip reaffirmed Susie’s loyalty to her contact list of local hotels and car hire. We have always advocated for local providers as a great way to keep money invested in the area and encourage responsible tourism to grow. But there are other reasons to keep things local – in the face of climate change, communities pull together to help each other.

“You cannot underestimate the value of local people on the ground, people who will help because I’ve been working for them for 20 years and they’re friends and we do each other favours,” says Susie. “They want to get these people out of there just as much as I do. If you’re working with big corporate properties, you can’t do that.”

“The destruction of Loongana’s bridge was a once in a lifetime occurrence,” says Susie. “It had never, never, ever happened before. A tour operator several years ago wouldn’t put this risk that high on their likelihood list.”

But today, the risk is higher. When incidents happen, they take a mental and fiscal toll. It’s only a matter of time before climate risks get reflected in the rising costs of vacations, so that operators can keep travelers as safe as possible.

Climate change in Australia

You can’t hide the rock walls that have been built along the Great Ocean Road to shore it up against rising sea levels.
Australia has always dealt with bush fires and extreme temperatures but, thanks to climate change, extreme weather events and fires are coming more and more frequently. Before the 2022 flooding, there were the 2019-2020 bush fires, which burnt some 24 million hectares of land, including half of Kangaroo Island, a nature reserve that’s known as Australia’s Galapagos.

Worse, disasters beget further disasters. Flooding can exacerbate bush fires, because it leads to more vegetation growth, and vegetation is easily burnt. Rain after bush fires can lead to landslides, because there is no vegetation left to hold back the soil, and bush fires can also lead to dust storms.

Parts of Australia are becoming more prone, not only to severe heat waves and bush fires, but to marine heatwaves, high air pressures and drought. This change comes on top of ocean acidification and sea level rise. Whole ecosystems are in states of collapse – alpine ecosystems through lack of snow, whole forests due to wildfire, and even underwater kelp forests are struggling.

This isn’t what the average tourist will see in Australia – thanks, in part, to careful planning by vacation operators. Yet climate change remains visible to visitors in other ways.

What climate change can you see in Australia?

The average vacationmaker won’t come across an extreme weather event on a tour. Operators are careful to run their tours at sensible times of year – out of peak seasons for wildfires, for instance. But visitors to Australia will likely note the effects of climate change.

After all, you can’t hide the rock walls that have been built along the Great Ocean Road to shore it up against rising sea levels.

“In the past several years, the sea level has risen to a point where the coastline was being lost and the road was under threat from the waves,” explains Jeremy Redmond, owner of our partner Australian Natural Treasures Touring. “The local council, state and federal government have intervened and saved a very expensive rebuild and the loss of a tourism region by building rock walls along the coast.”

Guides point out the walls to guests en route, as evidence of climate change.

Some tourists might see more dramatic effects of natural disasters. Our travelers Rex and Karen Berney, who went on our self drive tour of Tasmania, happened to be there as a wildfire threatened the area. “Many Australians were busy either guarding their homes from the fires, or figuring out how to live if they got burned out, or were afraid that fires might come to their area.”

Whilst most operators wouldn’t advise visiting an area during a wildfire, tourism is often crucial to helping these areas get back on their feet.

“There were a lot fewer people ‘on vacation’,” say Rex and Karen. “We felt that we helped just a bit to contribute to the local economies by just being there, as ‘outsiders’ with more freedom.”

Whilst vacation companies will divert their itineraries to protect guests on high fire danger days, or when flooding or fires might affect a route, they also often try to get tours back on the same routes as early as possible.

“We try to be there for local communities and help them recover,” says Magnus Nilsson, marketing and strategy director at our walking vacation partner Auswalk. “We try as quickly as we humanly can to deliver people in those areas… I myself go into areas where they are recovering when it is safe to do so.”

In the wake of wildfires or floods, Magnus makes sure that walkers are back on the trails as soon as possible, so that support to local communities affected by natural disaster comes when it is needed most.

“It’s obviously a bit confronting to do a hike in an area like that,” says Magnus. But for these places – where people can no longer pay their skyrocketing insurance premiums, and where they have lost their homes and livelihoods – money coming in is vital. It’s not disaster tourism; it’s a form of post-disaster aid.

Last-chance tourism

As Australia’s climate problems brew, the country is seeing a rise in last-chance tourism. In a recent survey, two thirds of visitors stated that they want to see the Great Barrier Reef before it’s gone.

Who can blame this type of tourism, when Australia’s international reputation increasingly becomes smeared by its natural disasters, and its political ones? Successive governments in the country have chosen coal mining over renewable energies, whilst Australia’s extinction record is one of the worst on earth.

But last-chance tourism could lead to increased pressures on high-risk sites, and its very attitude goes against responsible tourism – why bother caring about something if you know it’s going to be gone?
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Australia or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Visiting Australia despite climate change

No more disaster tourists: only disaster recovery tourists, please. Australia needs visitors who want to see – and help preserve – a biodiverse, amazing country.
Whilst Australia is suffering from the climate crises, there are fantastic vacations to be had here – and vacation companies who would move heaven and earth to make sure that visitors continue to have a good time. Vacation business owners remain fiercely proud of their country, and want to show off its best side. The key is to keep using companies who know the value of local connections. Operators who work closely with their communities are best placed to know the areas and risks well. Such responsible operators know how to show you a glimpse of climate change – without putting you in danger.

The best tourism money goes into projects that care. At our partner Auswalk, for instance, hikers can donate 10c for every kilometre they walk to a conservation center, and Tasmanian Odyssey supports the Tasmanian Land Conservancy. Many responsible operators work closely with Indigenous communities, whose stewardship of land directly contributes to its conservation.

No more disaster tourists: only disaster recovery tourists, please. Australia needs visitors who want to see – and help preserve – a biodiverse, amazing country. It needs visitors who believe in, and advocate for, the country’s future. For people like Susie, it’s travelers like this that make it all worth it.
Written by Eloise Barker
Photo credits: [Page banner: Matt Kieffer] [Climate change in Australia: Ank kumar] [Disaster tourism: Jo-Anne McArthur]