How heat waves are changing tourism in Europe
It was mid-July, the peak summer travel season, and the news from Europe was not good: a “superficial defect” briefly closed the runway at Luton Airport in London. Trains have been delayed or canceled across Britain due to overheated tracks. More than two dozen weather stations in France recorded their highest temperatures on record. And wildfires have broken out in tourist regions of France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece, including just outside Athens.
“If you were downtown, you could look out and see the Acropolis, and in the distance you could see the red haze,” said Peter Vlitas, executive vice president of Internova Travel Group, who was in Athens for the forest fires, which firefighters have since brought under control.
Mr Vlitas added that he could smell smoke from his hotel and sometimes had to close his door to prevent fine ash from being blown into his room. But life in Athens, he says, was pretty much business as usual.
“Tavernas are full at night and taxi drivers are busy, which is always a great barometer,” said Vlitas, still in Athens. “Greece is experiencing what the rest of Europe has – record numbers of tourists.”
After more than two years of postponing vacations, travelers are loath to cancel trips, even in the face of headline-grabbing weather. But several people in the industry have described a growing number of travelers adjusting their plans to account for high temperatures, whether by swapping destinations, reworking daytime schedules or delaying trips for a month or two. .
Given the pace and trajectory of climate change, such changes are likely to become more common – and more necessary – in the years to come. This is especially true for travel in Europe, a region that climatologists have described as a “hot spot” for severe summer heat, and where they predict that future heat waves will be longer, more frequent and more intense.
Even with the high number of tourists this summer, there are already subtle signs that the heat is causing changes that could become the future norm. Europe’s summer travel calendar has started to expand into the calmer (and cooler) months of April, May, September and October, as many travelers begin to shift their itineraries north and the ribs.
Karen Magee, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Known experiencessaid that beginning in mid-July, his travel agency began receiving calls from customers asking if they could adjust their travel plans to account for the heat.
“It was new,” Ms Magee said. “I can’t remember the last time we had people call and say, ‘Maybe we’ll skip Rome and go to a more beach-friendly city.’ Or maybe they shortened their route in the city and chose to go to the countryside a little earlier than they had planned.
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Dolev Azaria, the founder of Azaria Travel, helped a family make the last-minute choice to spend the first five days of their vacation in Amsterdam instead of Rome, just to avoid the heat. Other guests ditched their plans for Tuscany and rebooked for Sicily, where at least they would have a Mediterranean breeze.
“The goal is to move a customer from any heat-trapped city to a waterfront neighborhood,” Ms. Azaria said. “So places like Copenhagen and Amsterdam popped up, places where our customers might not have originally chosen to go.”
But Ms Azaria said that, so far, she had not had a full cancellation: “There have been so many requests turned down. We’re essentially condensing two years of travel into this summer.
Looking ahead to next year, Ms Azaria predicts an extended summer travel season: “We are already seeing that summer really stretches into late September, even into mid-October,” she said. she declared.
Any traveler who might be considering forgoing a trip due to extreme heat may find that their cancellation policies leave little opportunity for refunds. Clients of Jude Vargas, travel consultant and founder of Pyxis Guidesworried about the heat on an upcoming family trip to Portugal, but ended up sticking to it.
“They were worried their kids were out,” Ms Vargas said. “But because of the cancellation policies, they just realized, ‘OK, we’re engaged.'”
Even travel insurance probably won’t cover travelers who cancel a trip due to a heat wave, said Dan Drennen, director of sales and marketing at Travel insurance center. The only policy that would apply in such a scenario is “cancellation for any reason” insurance, Drennen said. He added that this type of insurance is usually around 40% more expensive than normal coverage and usually reimburses a maximum of 75% of the total cost of the trip. He advised travelers to do their research and speak to a broker before purchasing insurance, so they understand what is covered and what is not.
“People assume these policies do everything, and they don’t,” Drennen said.
Adjustment on the road
Those committed to traveling can take a number of practical steps to manage the heat. Ms. Vargas has been helping her clients move their afternoon tours to the cooler evening hours, but because this travel season is so busy, last-minute spots can be hard to come by. She also recommends traveling with a spray bottle with a fan attached, a portable device she described as “a saving grace, especially if you have kids.” Having an umbrella to use as a sun shade can also help. She added that, looking ahead to traveling next year, she is focusing on months like May and October.
Héctor Coronel Gutierrez, director of tourism at Madrid City Hall, advised visitors to his city in the height of summer to look for green spaces, including Madrid Río Park, which has plenty of shaded areas as well as a fountain where children can splash in the water. He added that although July and August are hot, the city tends to be quieter than May and June, so it’s easy to avoid the crowds.
It’s also easy to find air conditioning in Spain, although American visitors may find buildings warmer than they’re used to. Earlier this week, in an effort to reduce energy consumption, the Spanish government announced that shopping malls, cinemas, airports and other venues would be no longer be allowed to set their thermostats below 27 degrees Celsius or 80.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
Yet the travel writer and tour operator rick stevewho recently returned from Spain, said summer travelers might feel more comfortable in Madrid than in a city like London, Paris or Frankfurt, where high temperatures – and air conditioning – are not the norm.
“Places that are used to crazy heat, like Spain, well, they have a lifestyle that adapts to that – they take naps, they have canvas awnings over the walkways so people can have shade while they walk around, they have restaurants that are designed to allow people to eat in airy areas,” Steves said.
Along with practical measures like wearing sunscreen and drinking plenty of water, Steves advised travelers to book museum tickets in advance to avoid queuing in the heat. When planning future trips, he echoed Ms Vargas in advising people to consider traveling during ‘shoulder season’, which his tour operator now defines as April and October – and no longer May and September.
“This is a period of adjustment as we struggle to cope with the worsening impacts of climate change,” said Mr Steves, who pointed to the irony of travelers complaining about warmer temperatures. high even as they jumped on their carbon-intensive flights to Europe. He has suggested carbon offsets, but experts generally agree that these programs alone cannot cover the full carbon cost of our flights.
Even if we stopped all greenhouse gas emissions today, some amount of additional warming is already built into the system, said Dr Rebecca Carter, who leads climate adaptation work at the World Resources Institutea Washington, D.C.-based think tank But We Haven’t Stopped Spitting Climate-Warming Gases: Carbon Dioxide Emissions are on the riseand the planet is warming faster than ever.
The intense heat this summer “is not a fluke”, said Dr Carter, but rather “the start of a trend that we are going to see more of”.
The evidence on the ground in Europe is clear: In Britain, the 10 hottest years in the record books (dating back to 1884) all happened in this century. In Germany, the average annual number of “hot days” (those with temperatures reaching 30 degrees Celsius — 86 degrees Fahrenheit — or higher) has trended significantly higher since the 1950s. And in France, scientists have calculated that average temperatures in the northeastern city of Strasbourg are now approximately equal to those seen in Lyon, which is about 240 miles to the south-southwest, in the 1970s.
Dr Carter added that climate change will continue to manifest itself in the form of heat waves and other extreme weather events, many of which will disrupt travel logistics. (She pointed out that planes are not certified to fly above certain temperatures, a limit that has blocked flights in the past.) But when it comes to individual travel decisions, that will largely depend on personal tolerance.
“In the long list of factors we all go through when deciding where to go, when to go, whether to go,” Dr. Carter said, “weather and climate change should be part of the calculation.”