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Projected impacts of climate change on tourism in the Coachella Valley, California

Abstract

Weather and climate are important considerations for tourists in selecting their destinations, and climate change may impact these decisions, with implications for economic revenue in tourism-dependent locations. In the Coachella Valley, a desert region in Southern California, the warm and dry climate during winter months attracts seasonal visitors from Canada and northern US states (“snowbirds”). However, global warming may adversely impact the snowbird season and other tourist attractions through rising temperatures. We analyzed how increasing temperatures are likely to impact three key components of the tourism industry in the region: climate in the winter snowbird season, visitation at an outdoor tourist attraction, and the likelihood of extreme heat at an annual festival. We used statistically downscaled climate models to make predictions about future visitation to the region by calculating changing probabilities of extreme heat during the tourist season and local events. Our analysis predicts a shortened snowbird season, which we define as the time of year with daily maximum temperatures below a threshold of 30 °C, under two future climate scenarios and time periods. We find a nonlinear relationship between daily maximum temperatures and daily zoo visits, where visitation sharply declines after a threshold of 30 °C. Using this threshold, we predict a decrease in zoo visitation by up to 18% and a shortening of the snowbird season by up to 36% by the end of the century. We also predict an increased likelihood of extreme heat stress during the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

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Acknowledgments

CCY acknowledges the support from the University of California, Riverside, Chancellor’s Research Fellowship and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program. The authors also thank Guido Franco as the impetus for this work through the 4th California Climate Assessment and the developers of CalAdapt for downscaled climate model projections. Finally, the authors gratefully acknowledge the Living Desert Zoo and Botanical Gardens for their contribution to this dataset.

Availability of data and material

The modeled climate data used is publicly available on cal-adapt.org. Historical temperature data is also available from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA, www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/). Visitation data for the Living Desert Zoo and Botanical Gardens can be made available by the authors upon reasonable request and with permission from the Living Desert Zoo and Botanical Gardens.

Funding

This research was supported by the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program and the University of California’s Chancellor’s Research Fellowship.

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FMH and CCY conceived of the project. CCY carried out the analyses and made the figures with input from FMH and WCP. CCY and FMH wrote the manuscript with input from WCP.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Cindy C. Yañez.

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The authors declare that they have no known conflict of interest.

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The scripts used for this analysis can be made available by the authors upon reasonable request.

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Yañez, C.C., Hopkins, F.M. & Porter, W.C. Projected impacts of climate change on tourism in the Coachella Valley, California. Climatic Change 162, 707–721 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-020-02843-x

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Keywords

  • Tourism
  • Snowbird
  • Extreme heat
  • Zoo
  • Festival
  • Projections