How climate change will hit holidaymaking
Arrived in Bologna, Italy, today, now its off to Tuscany. The heatwave is spectacular here. If things continue like this, these holiday destinations will have no future in the long term. Climate change is destroying southern Europe. An era comes to an end. This tweet in early July by Karl Lauterbach, Germanys health minister, went down badly in Italy. The countrys minister for tourism, Daniela Santanche, sourly retorted that she thanked Mr Lauterbach for picking Italy for his holiday, but the Italian government was well aware of climate change and that sustainability was one of the central elements of its strategy for managing tourism. The industry is not just an important contributor to Italys economy. Europe is the planets most visited region, welcoming 585m of the worlds 900m international travellers in 2022. On top of this, domestic holiday-makers outstripped foreigners in terms of nights spent in tourist accommodation in the eu. Little wonder then that the sector directly generates 5% of the eus GDP and by some estimates indirectly accounts for more than 10%. Some countries rely heavily on travellers contributions both direct and indirect, including Croatia (26% of GDP), Greece (18.5%), Spain (13.6%) and Italy (10%). Changes to the climate that lead to ever-wilder weather could deliver a nasty blow to the tourist industry. This year southern Europe has endured an abnormally turbulent summer. Extreme hot weather in Italy in July contributed to wildfires that ravaged Sicily as the temperature at one time climbed to 47C in Palermo, the islands capital. Farther north, hailstorms in Lombardy claimed several lives. Also in July Greek authorities had to evacuate tens of thousands of tourists from Rhodes and Corfu after wildfires engulfed those islands. After heatwaves scorched Spain over the summer, Tenerife battled fires that last week forced thousands to flee their homes. Heavy floods have deluged southern Austria, Croatia and Slovenia. Despite the devastation, Italys tourism industryand that of Europe as a wholeis set for a record summer this year as holidaymakers return in force after the travel restrictions of the pandemic. Few have cancelled trips despite the dangers that may await them. According to Demoskopika, a market researcher, 68m people will have taken a holiday in Italy this summer, with around half arriving from abroad. Tourist numbers this year may even surpass the record set in 2019, when 743m visitors arrived in European destinations from other countries. According to Germanys tuI, the worlds largest travel group, in spite of higher prices summer bookings were around 6% higher than a year ago. Can the rebound last if tourists are fearful of the effects of climate change in years to come? Harald Zeiss, an expert in sustainable tourism at Harz University of Applied Sciences in Wernigerode, speaks for many climate watchers when he says that Europes weather will become hotter and drier, and that extreme weather events will become even more likely in the future. Aside from the awful consequences for populations caught up in floods or fires, this also threatens the livelihoods of those who rely on income and employment from tourism in affected areas. The classic all-inclusive package holiday on the beaches of the Med will have a rough ride, predicts Mr Zeiss. He reckons that the prospects of oppressive heat will deter the elderly and those with children in particular. Torsten Kirstges, another tourism expert at Jade University of Applied Sciences in Wilhelmshaven, thinks that while wildfires remain sporadic travellers will continue to flock south, even in the hot summer months, at least for the next five years. Youngsters in particular still want to roast in the sun, says Mr Kirstges. The lure of the Mediterranean will probably endure as long as the alternatives do not look as enticing. Northern destinations, in particular the Baltic Sea, Germany, eastern Europe and Scandinavia, may see an increase in demand during the peak summer period. But these destinations cannot replace southern resorts because they are not equipped for mass tourism (which many dont want anyway). For potential visitors the weather is too unpredictable in the summer. But travel trends do change, if slowly. In the 1950s the favourite holiday destination for Germans was a trip across the border to Austria. It was not before the mid-1980s that Spain took over. And experts agree that tourism in Europe in 30 years time will be different from what it is today. The industry has joined in with wider promises by businesses to hit the targets of the Paris climate agreement by becoming net-zero emitters of carbon dioxide by 2050. TUI, for instance, wants to be climate-neutral across its operations and supply chain by 2050. Yet such efforts by firms to mitigate the effects of global warming will have little overall impact. More importantly, tourism will need to adapt to climate change. In the short term, this will be a question of measures such as strict management of water resources where these are becoming increasingly scarce, early-warning systems for extreme weather events and an extension of the holiday seasons, says Thomas Ellerbeck, chief sustainability officer at tui. His company is, for instance, extending the booking season for Greece until November. Mr Kirstges thinks many more hotels in the Med will install air conditioning (fuelled by solar power), water coolers and the like. Tourists may adapt by going out in the mornings and evenings to avoid the midday furnace. Longer term, some switching from the golden sands of the Med to the beaches of the Baltic is inevitable. But there is a silver lining for the holidaymakers who will either discover the unexpected beauty of Baltic beaches or may go south at different times of the year. A shift by some tourists to the spring or autumn will help with the overcrowding which has become a such a nuisance for residents and those visitors eager to imbibe the culture of Dubrovnik, Venice, Barcelona or other marvels of southern Europe in relative peace. For more coverage of climate change, sign up for the Climate Issue, our fortnightly subscriber-only newsletter, or visit our climate-change hub.