Tourist Businesses Are at the Mercy of Extreme Weather

Owners find climate change has become a bigger factor than COVID
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 3, 2023 12:10 PM CDT
Tourist Businesses Are at the Mercy of Extreme Weather
Dan Dawson, owner of Horizon Divers, poses in the rental equipment area of his dive shop in Key Largo, Florida. His business is running at pre-pandemic levels.   (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

For small businesses that rely on summer tourism, extreme weather is replacing the pandemic as the determining factor in how well a summer will go. The pandemic had its ups and downs for tourism, with a total shutdown followed by a rush of vacations due to pent-up demand. This year, small businesses say vacation cadences are returning to normal. But now, they have extreme weather to deal with—many say it's hurting business, while more temperate spots are seeing a surge. Tourism-related businesses have always been at the mercy of the weather. But with heat waves, fires and storms becoming more frequent and intense, small businesses increasingly see extreme weather as their next long-term challenge.

For Jared Meyers, owner of Legacy Vacation Resorts, with four of its eight locations in Florida, Hurricane Idalia led to a loss in revenue as he temporarily closed one resort and closed another to new guests. It also means a lengthy period to fix gutter and other damage and clean up the beach, which includes replanting sea grass and sea grapes to protect against the next storm. "Even when the hurricane doesn't hit directly, it wreaks havoc economically, emotionally—to those that have suffered previous losses—and to our way of life," Meyers said. A lifelong Florida resident, he's used to hurricanes but fears they're getting worse. A study published in Nature Communications found the number of storms that intensify dramatically within 240 miles of a coastline worldwide grew to 15 a year in 2020 compared to five a year in 1980.

For Steve Silberberg in Saco, Maine, who runs Fitpacking, a company that guides people on wilderness backpacking trips in national and state parks and forests, extreme weather is becoming a serious obstacle. National Park Service Research has shown that national parks are experiencing extreme weather conditions at a higher rate than the rest of the country. Historic snowfall in March at Yosemite—followed by a wildfire—affected one hike Silberberg had planned. Another hike was canceled due to unusually large snowfall in Zion National Park in Utah. He had to cancel a trip to the Los Padres National Forest in California due to wildfires and flooding. "We are quickly approaching a crossroads as to how to keep the business viable," he said. "It seems that almost half of our trips are affected in some way by increasingly extreme weather events."

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The temperature shifts work for some destinations. While other parts of the country are dealing with triple-digit heat, Mission Point Resort on northern Michigan's Mackinac Island has had temperatures in the 70s, per the AP. "And so we have seen a lot of people from the Texas, Florida, Georgia area coming up north to northern Michigan because it is so temperate up here," said Mission Point's Liz Ware. And Silberberg is trying to find ways to make climate change work for him. He is thinking about starting a company that helps people visit places that could disappear because of climate change, such as Glacier National Park in Montana or the Everglades in Florida, which is threatened by rising sea levels.

(More tourism stories.)

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