The high summer temperatures in Southern Europe could lead to a permanent change in tourist habits, with more travelers choosing cooler destinations or taking their vacations in spring or autumn to avoid excessive heat, according to tourism agencies and experts. The alarm bells are also ringing for Greece.
Data from the European Travel Commission (ETC) shows that the number of people planning to travel to Mediterranean countries, including Greece, from June to November has decreased by 10% compared to last year, as the hot weather conditions have led to droughts and fires.
Meanwhile, destinations such as the Czech Republic, Denmark, Ireland, and Bulgaria have seen an increase in preferences.
"We predict that unpredictable weather conditions in the future will have a greater impact on travelers' choices in Europe," said Miguel Santh, head of the ETC.
A report from the same organization also shows that 7.6% of travelers, which translates to millions of tourists, now see extreme weather events as their main concern for travel between June and November.
Among them are Anita Elsøe and her husband, who returned to their home in Norway from their favorite vacation spot, Vazanello, a village north of Rome, one week earlier than planned this month, as temperatures reached 35 degrees Celsius there.
"I had a severe headache, my feet were swollen, and I was getting increasingly dizzy," said Mrs. Elsøe about her heat-related symptoms. "We were supposed to stay there for two weeks but couldn't because of the heat."
The travel demand has surged again this summer as tourists leave behind years of pandemic-related restrictions, and travel companies say that heat hasn't caused many cancellations—yet.
In particular, the British have booked fewer holidays within their own country and more in the Mediterranean, often months in advance, as they continue to crave beach getaways after the lockdown, said Sean Tipton of the British travel agents' group ABTA.
However, this balance could change as heat waves become more exhausting. Scientists have long warned that climate change, caused by carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels, will make extreme weather events more frequent, severe, and deadly.
Meteorologists predict that temperatures next week may surpass Europe's current record of 48.8 degrees Celsius, set in Sicily in August 2021, raising fears of a repeat of heat-related deaths from last year.
"Our recent research shows a decrease in the number of people interested in traveling in August, the peak month, while more Europeans are considering autumn trips," said Mr. Santh.
Tourists in Rome told Reuters that they would think twice before booking another trip to Italy in July as they tried to drink enough water, stay cool, and find air-conditioned places to rest.
"I would come when it's colder. Only in June, maybe April," said Daphne Nibber, an American tourist on vacation with her husband in Rome this week, who said the heat made their visit "miserable."
These are bad news for Italy's economy, which relies on intense summer tourism activity, just like Greece.
Italy's Ministry of the Environment warned in a report this year that foreign tourists in the future will travel more in spring and autumn and choose more fantastic destinations.
"The balance will be negative, also because part of the Italian tourists will contribute to the flow of international tourism in less hot countries," the report stated.
Some hope that the change will simply be a shift in movement, rather than a decrease. In Spain, there is expected to be high demand for vacations in coastal destinations in the north of the country and Spanish tourist islands, where summer temperatures tend to be lower, according to a report from the national tourism association Exceltur.
Spaniards Daniel Otero and Rebeca Vázquez, visiting Bilbao, said they might move their vacations to June next year when it would be cooler and more comfortable.
For Mrs. Elsøe, summer vacations in Southern Europe may belong to the past. She said she would consider taking vacations in her home country, Norway, adding, "I don't want to go on vacation again where I will have a headache and feel dizzy."
[With information sourced from Reuters]