Big Bend National Park has some of the most diverse ecosystems and landscapes in the country. Tourists are drawn to the park's unique biological diversity provided by the park's natural resources each year. The potential impacts of climate change and the effects it will have on the tourism industry are a concern. The goal of this research was to identify the relationship between climate and visitation and estimate the potential impact climate change would have on that relationship. The objectives are divided between two essays.
The first essay focuses on identifying the link between climate and tourism and predicting how climate change could influence recreational visitation. A monthly and a seasonal model were developed that identified the relationships between age, population, income, gas price, precipitation and mean, minimum and maximum temperature. The results indicate that mean temperature, precipitation and gas price influence visitation seasonally. Under representative concentration pathway (RCP) 4.5 and 8.5 climate change scenarios, annual visitation was projected to be 319,083 and 322,385, respectively, with more visits occurring in cooler temperatures. The RCP 4.5 scenario had a projected increase of 8.83% in overall visitation. However, under the more severe conditions of the RCP 8.5, scenario visitation was projected to increase by 9.96% overall.
The second essay focuses on using variations of a zonal travel cost model to estimate visitor willingness to pay to visit the park, which can be viewed as a proxy for the value of the natural resources within the park. An alternative model factored average zonal income into the calculation of total travel cost. The traditional zonal travel cost model estimated the park's total value at US$1,301,446,000. However, the value predicted by the alternate model was slightly higher at US$1,422,244,000. Taking into consideration the projected effect of climate change on visitation, the value of the natural resources that contribute to tourism at the park will increase. Under the RCP 4.5 scenario, the value predicted by the traditional and alternate models increased to US$1,416,363,682 and US$1,547,828,145, respectively. Under the RCP 8.5 scenario, the value predicted by the traditional and alternate models increased to US$1,431,070,022 and US$1,563,899,502, respectively. Overall, the results of this study suggest that the tourism industry in and around Big Bend National Park might not be as susceptible to the negative impacts predicted to occur elsewhere because of climate change.
- Gan, Jianbang Professor