Exploring how climate change will reshape the tourism industry

Michelle Rutty, an assistant professor of sustainable tourism at MSU, works to understand how decisions related to natural resources, including climate change, influence the sustainability of the recreation and tourism sectors.

Michelle Rutty

Tourism is often seen as a financial boon for communities, especially for those with beautiful natural resources to enjoy and explore. Often, however, communities look at tourism opportunities shortsightedly and forget to consider tourism’s long-term financial and environmental impacts.

Michelle Rutty, an assistant professor of sustainable tourism at MSU, works to understand how decisions related to natural resources, including climate change, influence the sustainability of the recreation and tourism sectors.

Rutty uses an interdisciplinary approach that combines interviews, survey data and focus groups to provide information for recreation and tourism stakeholders in making sustainable policy decisions related to long-term environmental sustainability.

The Toronto native said she loves traveling throughout Michigan and learning more about a natural resource-rich community, and the people who live here.

“What has been particularly exciting about this research has been travelling across the state and meeting community members who are keen to share why they love Michigan,” she said. “In turn, I, too, am gaining a deeper appreciation for the natural beauty of the state.”

Rutty’s latest research has focused on winter sports tourism, including the Olympic Winter Games. She is interested in exploring how a decrease in snowfall, reduced opportunities for snowmaking, shorter and more variable ski seasons, and decreased demand reshape the tourism sector.

Climate change might negatively affect the ski season, but for states like Michigan with a variety of tourism sectors, there will be new opportunities, at least in theory. A longer summer season could increase demand for golfing, camping, boating and hiking, for example. But it all depends on how tourists react to climate change. This consumer response is what fascinates Rutty most.

“While a ski season may be shorter, skiers may simply ski more frequently during the shortened season. There are also environmental and socioeconomic considerations that will result from climate change and indirectly affect tourism, including altered water availability, vector-borne diseases, changes in biodiversity,” she said. “Although there are a number of factors to consider, climate change is here and we must understand these risks and adapt accordingly.”

Q&A: Michelle Rutty

Title: Assistant professor, MSU Department of Community Sustainability

Joined MSU: 2016

Education: B.A. in international development studies, University of Guelph (Canada); Ph.D. in geography, University of Waterloo (Canada); postdoctoral fellowship, Interdisciplinary Centre on Climate Change, University of Waterloo (Canada)

Hometown: Toronto, Canada

The best part about being a new mom [Rutty was on maternity leave when she was interviewed for this article]: My favorite part of having a newborn is enjoying all the quiet moments together, marveling at his tiny features, soaking in the intoxicating “newborn smell,” observing his many facial expressions, and being in complete awe that he’s finally arrived.

Favorite comfort food after a long day: Ice cream! Having the MSU Dairy Store (an ice cream shop located on campus) located in the building across from mine has been quite dangerous!

Go-to playlist or music of choice: Boy bands have always been a shameless guilty pleasure.

The skill I don’t have that I most wish I had: The ability to speak multiple languages.

Favorite work of fiction: The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood.

Dream vacation destination: I’ve been fortunate to travel to some dream destinations through my tourism research. Since coming to MSU, I have had the exciting opportunity to go on a trip to the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, checking one destination off the ever-expanding list! Other destinations at the top of my dream list include Bhutan, Myanmar and Mo’orea.

The hardest I’ve laughed in recent memory: This past summer I was explaining to my family where I was doing my research in Michigan, when I proceeded to use my palm to point out the locations. My family didn’t understand what I was doing and I couldn’t stop laughing, realizing that I’m truly becoming a Michigander.

This article was published in Futures, a magazine produced twice per year by Michigan State University AgBioResearch. To view past issues of Futures, visit www.futuresmagazine.msu.edu. For more information, email Holly Whetstone, editor, at whetst11@msu.edu or call 517-355-0123.

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