Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
thesis_access.pdf (33.62 MB)

Climate change adaptation in a coastal hotel sector: The case of Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Download (33.62 MB)
Version 2 2023-09-22, 01:43
Version 1 2021-12-07, 17:03
posted on 2023-09-22, 01:43 authored by Nhep, Tinat

Tourism is one of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economic sectors with key contributions to gross domestic product (direct and total contribution), employment (direct and total contribution), visitor exports, and investment (UNWTO, 2018b; WTTC, 2018b). Cambodia is a post-conflict country, which has seen very rapid tourism development over the last decade, while also being identified as being very vulnerable to climate change impacts by several key international agencies. Along with the rapid growth of the country’s tourism, UNWTO (2014) argues that Cambodia’s coastal tourism is at the forefront of climate change impacts. Two tools widely used to respond to climate change are adaptation and mitigation (Parry, 2007). The overall effect of mitigation is ‘global’ while the positive effect of adaptation is ‘local to regional’ (Füssel & Klein, 2006). Therefore, adaptation is most needed for tourism in developing nations (Scott, de Freitas, & Matzarakis, 2009), especially for a rapidly developing coastal destination like Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Taking this into account, the thesis takes the form of a climate change-focused case study of the coastal hotel sector in Cambodia’s Sihanoukville. The central concern of the thesis is to determine whether Sihanoukville’s hotel sector adapts to climate change and critically examine the barriers and enabling factors that influence adaptation.  Adopting a postpositivist approach, the study conducted semi-structured interviews with 50 hotel respondents and field observations in Sihanoukville. Mixed method (qualitative & quantitative) and single-case study were used. Prior to exploring the adaptation, the vulnerability of Sihanoukville’s coastal tourism and its hotels were assessed through the perceptions on environmental and socio-economic factors, supported by the existing scientific evidence. The purpose is to identify the vulnerability, which is prerequisite before determining adaptation actions. The assessment is guided by key studies such as Moreno and Becken (2009), Smit and Wandel (2006), UNWTO (2014) and MOE, GEF and UNEP (2015) which explain that identifying key vulnerabilities is prerequisite knowledge before further identifying the adaptation responses for tourism. Adopted from WMO, UNEP, and WTO (2008) and Simpson, Gössling, Scott, Hall, and Gladin (2008), an adaptation framework that includes technical, managerial, policy, research and education was used to determine the hotels’ adaptation. Within the context of hotels’ adaptation, the study investigates the perceived criticality levels of barriers and enabling factors to adaptation because little research has been done to address the issue. The most critical (significant) barriers and enabling factors have been identified by measuring mean scores on a six-point rating scale with 0 being ‘uninfluential’ barrier and 5 being ‘very major’ barrier, and 0 being ‘uninfluential’ enabling factor and 5 being ‘very important’ enabling factor. In order to explore the underlying dimensions of hotel attributes (star rating, ownership etc.) and participants’ backgrounds (level of education, experience etc.) with regard to the barriers and enabling factors to adaptation, descriptive statistics and independent sample tests was used to determine whether there is statistical evidence that the associated sub-groups of respondent means are significantly different.  Although Cambodia and Sihanoukville have been identified as very vulnerable by several key reports, the participants perceived that Sihanoukville’s coastal tourism and its hotel sector are moderately and slightly vulnerable respectively, mainly owing to ‘risk perception’ or ‘perception gap’ that leads to a subjective judgement on the actual climate change impacts. These respondents were surrounded by uncertainty of climate change information. While some studies identified the hotel sector as possessing the lowest adaptive capacity that is relative to their fixed structures (buildings) (e.g. WMO et al., 2008), this study found that the hotel attributes led to considerable variation in the adaptations. Of all the five types of adaptation, the technical adaptation was most significantly employed in the hotel sector. In the context of the hotels’ adaptation, the greatest barriers and enabling factors to climate change adaptation were also identified. Measured by mean scores, the findings further showed the most critical barriers to be ‘limited resources’, limited knowledge/perception of climate change, and ‘lack of political will’, and the most critical enabling factors to be ‘sufficient resources’, ‘sufficient information’ and ‘good leadership and management structures’. Subsequently, the study critically examines the extent to which hotel attributes and participants’ backgrounds influenced the barriers and enabling factors to adaptation. It was found that the barriers and enabling factors vary due to hotel attributes as well as participants’ backgrounds. Finally, the study proposes a conceptual framework of coastal hotel sector adaptation to climate change in the context of developing countries.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

CC BY 4.0

Degree Discipline

Tourism Management

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Unit

University Library

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

Victoria Management School


Schott, Christian; Sahli, Mondher