Climate Change Threatens Billion-dollar Industry

Rising temperatures, increased rainfall variability and more frequent extreme weather events are posing a threat to Albury-Wodonga's annual billion-dollar tourism industry, according to a new study.

The study by La Trobe University has highlighted the profound challenges faced by businesses, organisations and clubs reliant on the waterways amid increasingly severe climate-related events.

The region's allure, anchored by the Murray River, Lake Hume and Gateway Lakes, provides a backdrop for recreational activities and major events essential to the local economy.

In 2022, tourism played a pivotal economic role in Albury-Wodonga, drawing more than 1.5 million visitors and generating $1.16 billion in revenue. But extreme weather events, such as droughts, bushfires and floods, pose a threat to the sustainability of the visitor economy.

"Climate change is already manifesting in the region," Dr Heather Downey, lead author and Senior Lecturer in Social Work, said.

"Past environmental crises, including the Black Summer fires and the 2022 flooding event, caused adverse effects with road accessibility and blue-green algal blooms subsequently impacting tourism either directly or indirectly.

"The reliance of the Albury-Wodonga region on freshwater tourism accentuates the pressing need to confront the challenges posed by climate change."

The study engaged a diverse group of eight participants between November and December last year, including members from a sailing club and the Albury Wodonga Dragon Boat Club, a café proprietor and outdoor adventure business operators and employees, who shared their experiences and adaptation strategies amid climate uncertainty.

"I've lost 30 operating days a year, so currently there are 30 days a year that I used to be able to operate in when I started and we've lost a few days each year … and that's the way more constant, severe weather is going to affect society generally I think," - study participant and outdoor adventure business owner said.

"One of the big impacts we've noticed more of is probably blue-green algae … so we've had to cancel regattas. That's an impact we can do without. I never recalled that from my early days as being an issue," - study participant and sailing club member said.

Others highlighted the challenges in accessing reliable cross-border information and coordinating with government agencies for support.

"I just get the runaround … it's all a political minefield … we had two trees across the river from Victoria and New South Wales touching and I'm trying to get people to go down the Muray … and they're like oh well," - study participant and outdoor adventure business owner said.

"I'd like to see the outdoor industry, which includes recreators and clubs, take a much more leading role in working with government agencies," - study participant said.

The report has called for immediate action from government bodies, urging enhanced collaboration and clearer legislative directives to safeguard the region's natural assets and economic vitality.

"This study serves as a wake-up call. While businesses and clubs adapt locally, addressing the root causes of climate change is paramount as we cannot afford to overlook our responsibility in this global crisis," Dr Downey said.

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