Heatwaves and Wildfires Imperil Southern Europe’s Crucial Tourism Revenues

by Chloe Baker
Climate Impact on Tourism

Amid the encroaching flames on the Greek island of Rhodes, tourists from a seaside resort quickly fetched buckets of pool water and wet towels to aid local staff and residents in tackling one of the wildfires endangering Mediterranean locations due to recent heat waves.

The swift communal response ensured that when the fire department arrived, much of the blaze had already been subdued, as told by Elena Korosteleva from the UK, a guest at the Lindos Memories hotel.

Despite a few guests choosing to curtail their vacations the next morning, the majority decided to stay, given that the resort remained unscathed by the minor fire in the surrounding vegetation.

Following an 11-day-long wildfire ordeal in July, Rhodes, an island famed for its dazzling beaches and historic sites, is grappling with the aftermath. The island is now assessing the potential fallout on its vital tourism industry, a primary source of income for most of the local population and constituting around 20% of Greece’s economy.

Similar challenges confront other Mediterranean hotspots, including Italy and Spain, where extreme heat and wildfires are also wreaking havoc on the tourism sector. In late July, Greece, Italy, Algeria, and Tunisia collectively suffered a loss of over 1,350 square kilometers (520 square miles) due to fires, affecting approximately 120,000 individuals, as per the European Union’s estimates. Meanwhile, Greece is bracing for more extreme heat in the coming days.

Despite last summer’s destructive fires in northwestern Spain, the mayor of the village of Villardeciervos reports that visitors, especially hikers, continue to arrive. Rosa María López stated, “We are likely to experience a downturn in tourism over the coming years, whether we like it or not.” She also highlighted the distressing sight of fire-ravaged hiking trails devoid of trees. However, she asserted that the region continues to attract tourists, indicating the need for adaptation.

Wildfires have resulted in a substantial loss of tourists in particularly affected regions of Greece and Italy. Rhodes has experienced numerous flight cancellations, a trend also observed in Sicily, according to Olivier Ponti, vice president of insights at ForwardKeys, a travel data company.

While the overall impact on Greece’s travel industry remains relatively moderate, Italy faces a tougher predicament. Wildfires have led to a deceleration in bookings for numerous Italian locations, even those distant from the fire zones.

Amid the rising concerns, the US-based climate technology startup Sensible Weather is innovating insurance that could provide compensation if extreme heat spoils vacation plans. They’ve launched a “weather guarantee” insurance, available to travel companies in the UK, France, and the US, which remunerates travelers if extended rain disrupts their beach vacation or lack of snow spoils a skiing trip. Sensible Weather intends to introduce a heat cover option shortly, according to founder Nick Cavanaugh.

Despite the fire incident, Manolis Markopoulos, head of the Rhodes hotel association, remains hopeful that a rebound in arrivals to the parts of the island untouched by fire could compensate for much of the anticipated boost in tourism.

Rhodes had anticipated an 8%-10% surge in foreign arrivals over the successful 2022 tourism season, when about 2.6 million people arrived on the island, mostly from Britain and Germany. However, post-fire, the last week of July saw flight cancellations outnumber all bookings made in the same week of 2019.

While some major UK operators temporarily cancelled all Rhodes flights and holidays, offering refunds to those booked for fire-affected areas, other budget airlines maintained their operations and reported regular travel figures. TUI, Germany’s leading travel operator, is once again offering vacations to all parts of Rhodes after temporarily halting its services.

Elena Korosteleva, a vacationer on Rhodes, emphasized that the wildfires should spur efforts against climate change. She stated that it brings to the fore the damage humans have inflicted on the planet and the urgent need for action.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Climate Impact on Tourism

How have wildfires impacted tourism in Rhodes, Greece?

The island of Rhodes, Greece, has been severely affected by wildfires. While a swift communal response at one resort ensured that a fire was mostly extinguished before the arrival of the fire department, the overall impact on the island has been significant. Some guests chose to cut their holidays short, and there were mass cancellations of flights. The island is now evaluating how these fires, which occurred during peak travel season, might impact its crucial tourism sector.

How has climate change affected Southern Europe’s tourism?

Heatwaves and wildfires, intensified by climate change, have caused significant disruptions to the tourism industry in Southern Europe. Countries like Greece, Italy, Spain, and others have seen a reduction in tourists due to fears of extreme weather conditions and the actual devastation caused by the fires. The situation has sparked innovations in the travel insurance industry, with companies developing policies to compensate people if extreme heat disrupts their holidays.

How are travel insurance companies responding to climate change-related disruptions?

Climate technology startup Sensible Weather has responded by developing insurance policies that compensate people if extreme weather ruins their holiday. They have launched “weather guarantee” coverage that pays travelers if extended rain disrupts their beach vacation or there’s a lack of snow for a ski trip. They also plan to introduce a heat cover option soon.

How does climate change impact future travel to Southern Europe?

As heatwaves and wildfires become more common due to climate change, travel to Southern Europe during the summer months could become less attractive. If these conditions continue or worsen, it could have a significant impact on the economies of these countries, many of which rely heavily on tourism. It could also shift tourism traffic towards cooler countries in northern Europe.

What measures are being taken by travel operators post-wildfires in Rhodes?

Post the wildfires, travel operators are adopting different strategies. While some major UK operators temporarily cancelled all Rhodes flights and holidays, offering refunds to those booked for fire-affected areas, other budget airlines maintained their operations. Germany’s leading travel operator TUI is once again offering vacations to all parts of Rhodes after temporarily halting its services.

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LindaO August 5, 2023 - 5:43 pm

Wow, this is pretty intense. It really makes u think about where to go on holiday. Safety first, right?

ECO_Warrior99 August 5, 2023 - 10:54 pm

We need to act on climate change now, guys! Look at what’s happening. its not just about spoiling holidays, its about our planet.

Serena_Voyager August 5, 2023 - 11:06 pm

Kudos to Sensible Weather, innovative ideas like this are need of the hour. Climate change is real and affecting our lives already.

JohnD_traveler August 6, 2023 - 1:32 am

Had planned to visit Greece this year… now I’m not so sure, wildfires sounds scary. maybe I’ll reconsider, climate change is no joke.

Adam_L August 6, 2023 - 1:34 am

so it’s not just us humans but economies are feeling the heat too huh… just wondering how much more before we get serious bout this.

BennyG August 6, 2023 - 7:08 am

I feel for the people in these areas, their livelihoods depend on tourism. The world is changing and we must adapt.


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