Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 449–458 | Cite as

Climate change in a regional context: relative vulnerability in the Australasian skier market

  • Debbie Hopkins
  • James E. S. Higham
  • Susanne Becken
Original Article


The concept of relative vulnerability allows for comparisons between analogous units in a regional context. It is utilised within tourism studies to consider how climate change might affect demand and perceived attractiveness of destinations relative to their competitors. This paper examines Australian tourists travelling to New Zealand’s ski fields, responding to the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) assertion that, “tourist flows from Australia to New Zealand might grow as a result of the relatively poorer snow conditions in Australia” (Hennessy et al. 2007: p 523). This travel flow is not a new phenomenon; however, it is forecast to increase as climate change impacts upon Australia’s natural and man-made snowmaking capacity with implications for the viability of the ski industries in both Australia and New Zealand. The Queenstown Lakes Region (South Island, New Zealand) serves as the field area for this study. The empirical research utilises a qualitative methodology for which in-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with New Zealand ski industry representatives and Australian tourists during the southern hemisphere winter season of 2011. Findings suggest that the social context of vulnerability creates difficulty in forecasting the outcomes and behaviours associated with relative vulnerability. While tourism representatives’ focus on snow reliability and availability to conceptualise relative vulnerability, Australian tourists are influenced by a broader range of factors including their own travel experience. This paper demonstrates a clear need to move beyond a focus on snow reliability to consider the broad range of factors that contribute to regional variations in vulnerability. In doing so, it confirms the critical importance of situating relative vulnerability within a social context.


Relative vulnerability Context vulnerability Ski tourism Regional comparisons Travel flow Climate change 



We would like to thank the University of Otago and the New Zealand Federation of Graduate Women's Harriette Jenkins award for supporting this research.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Debbie Hopkins
    • 1
  • James E. S. Higham
    • 1
  • Susanne Becken
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.University of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand
  2. 2.Griffith University, Gold Coast CampusSouth BrisbaneAustralia
  3. 3.Lincoln UniversityLincoln, ChristchurchNew Zealand

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