Arnie WeissmannAmong the vacation-related ads I'm seeing this summer are ones reassuring visitors to Long Island beaches and the Jersey Shore that both are open for business this summer despite the damage to resort areas that occurred during Hurricane Sandy last November.

"We're stronger than the storm," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie declares in one of the ads.

Superstorm Sandy was the proverbial "perfect storm," exacerbated by a full moon and unfortunate supporting weather patterns, but climatologists also warn that we're likely to see a rising number of unusually powerful hurricanes as a result of climate change.

The Long Island and Jersey Shore ads may represent a first that is worth noting: tourism promotions linked to climate change.

Odds are they won't be the last. While it's impossible to say with certainty that a specific storm or flood was caused by human-induced climate change, tourism-damaging events that are linked to changes in broad weather patterns appear to be proliferating this year.

At Cruise3Sixty last month, I sat down with Rudi Schreiner, president and co-founder of AmaWaterways. We discussed a number of topics related to river cruising, the industry's fastest-growing segment.

He didn't seem to have many worries. His company has an excellent reputation, his fleet is young, and his business is growing nicely. His product, though primarily in Europe, is hedging with geographic diversity, cruising rivers in Southeast Asia, Russia and southern Africa.

But if there are dark clouds ahead for Schreiner, literally and figuratively, they are connected to climate change. This year, the river cruise industry lost millions of dollars when Europe's waterways rose, stranding ships and passengers after high water made it impossible for the vessels to pass under bridges to safe port.

Thousands of passengers who had signed up for a river cruise found themselves instead on what resembled a traditional motorcoach tour, staying in hotel rooms rather than cabins for portions of their trip.

Going forward, Schreiner said, "My biggest concern is weather. Low water, high water. We had a bad year [for flooding] in 2002. This year, in some areas it was not as bad as then, but in others it was worse."

Schreiner said Vilshofen, on the German Danube, is Ama's hub and has traditionally been less affected by flooding than other areas. Ama's bread-and-butter itineraries -- on the Danube to Budapest or on the Rhine -- don't involve canals or other areas easily affected by high water, and are "pretty safe," but on the Main or upper Danube, he said, "you have low bridges, and [itineraries] can be affected quickly. These are things that are more concerning."

Schreiner said he uses a dozen websites to monitor water levels so that he can reposition ships before the heaviest water hits. He didn't cancel any itineraries during the recent floods, "though I did have to utilize some hotels."

Not much has been said by climatologists specifically about how changing patterns will affect Europe's rivers, he said. "If [flooding occurs] every 10, every 15 years, we can live with it," he said. "But we will see how it goes in the future."

Modifications to the American Queen itineraries on the upper Mississippi last month suggest that changing weather patterns and increases in flooding linked to climate change are not a uniquely European phenomenon.

Nor is climate impact on travel and tourism solely related to events such as hurricanes, ground-saturating rains or, conversely, droughts. Rising ocean levels will wipe beaches -- and in the case of the Maldives, a country -- off the map. The snow cap atop Mount Kilimanjaro has retreated by more than 25% since 2000. Polar bear habitats are shrinking.

Climate change is going to affect the planet in ways that are far more profound than the cancellation of beach holidays, river cruises, mountain climbing or animal viewing. But note should be made of the ramping up of tourism-related events linked to climate change in 2013.

As an industry, travel is perhaps the broadest reflection of human interests and life itself, from culinary and cultural tours to medical tourism and leisure pursuits. Tourism-related impacts -- inconveniences, for now -- are leading indicators of greater changes to come.

We can repair the damage to weather-related events -- "We're stronger than the storm," in Christie's words -- but the timeframe for changing the human behavior that is fueling climate change is frighteningly short. We may, as a species, be strong, but our actions suggest we may be stronger than we are smart.

Email Arnie Weissmann at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter.


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