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How Heat Waves are Changing Tourism in Europe

It was mid-July, peak summer travel season, and the news from Europe wasn’t looking good: a heat-induced “surface defect” briefly closed the runway at London’s Luton Airport. Trains were delayed or canceled across Britain due to overheated tracks. More than two dozen weather stations In France recorded their highest temperatures ever. And wildfires flared up in tourist regions of France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece, including just outside Athens.

“If you were in the center of the city, you could look out and see the Acropolis, and in the distance you could see the red haze,” said Peter Vlitas, executive vice president at Internova Travel Group, who lives in Athens. was during the wildfires, which firefighters have since brought under control.

Mr Vlitas added that he could smell the smoke from his hotel and sometimes had to close his door to prevent fine ash from entering his room. But life in Athens, he said, went on almost as usual.

“The taverns are full at night and the taxi drivers are busy, which is always a great barometer,” said Mr Vlitas, still in Athens. “Greece is experiencing what the rest of Europe has: a record number of tourists.”

After more than two years of postponing their vacation, travelers hate canceling their trips, even in light of the weather making headlines. But several in the industry described a growing number of travelers adjusting their plans to account for high temperatures, either by switching destinations, adjusting their daily schedules, or delaying their travels for a month or two.

Given the pace and trajectory of climate change, such shifts are likely to become more common — and more necessary — in the coming years. This is especially true for travel to Europe, a region that climate researchers do have described as a “hot spot” for extreme summer heat, and true they predict that future heat waves will be longer, more frequent and more intense.

Even with the high tourist numbers this summer, there are already subtle signs that the heat is causing changes that could become the norm in the future. Europe’s summer travel calendar begins to stretch into the quieter (and cooler) months of April, May, September and October, as many travelers begin to shift their itineraries north and towards the coast.

Karen Magee, senior vice president and general manager at In the well-known experiencessaid her travel agency began receiving calls from customers in mid-July asking if they could adjust their travel plans to accommodate the heat.

“That was new,” Mrs. Magee said. “I can’t remember the last time people called and said, ‘Maybe we’ll skip Rome and go for a city that’s more accessible to the beach.’ Or maybe they shortened their travel route in the city and chose to get into the country a little earlier than planned.”

Dolev Azaria, the founder of Azaria Travel, helped a family make a last minute decision to spend the first five days of their vacation in Amsterdam rather than Rome, just to avoid the heat. Other customers canceled their plans for Tuscany and rebooked to Sicily, where they would at least have a Mediterranean breeze.

“The goal is to move a customer from a heat-trapped city to a waterfront environment,” Ms Azaria said. “So places like Copenhagen and Amsterdam have been added, places that our customers might not have chosen originally.”

But Ms Azaria said she has not had full cancellations so far: “There is so much withheld demand. We’re basically condensing two years of travel into this summer.”

Looking ahead to next year, Ms. Azaria is planning an extended summer travel season: “We can already see that summer really extends to the end of September, even to mid-October,” she said.

Travelers who may consider traveling due to extreme heat may find that their cancellation policy offers few refund options. Clients of Jude Vargas, a travel consultant and founder of Pyxis Guideswere concerned about the heat during an upcoming family trip to Portugal but ended up sticking with it.

“They were concerned that their children were outside,” said Ms. Vargas. “But because of the cancellation policy, they just realized, ‘OK, we’re committed.'”

Even travel insurance probably won’t cover travelers who cancel a trip because of 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 “cancel the insurance for any reason,” Drrennen said. He added that this type of insurance is typically about 40 percent more expensive than regular coverage, and it generally reimburses up to 75 percent of total travel expenses. He advised travelers to do their research and talk to a broker before purchasing insurance so that they understand what is covered and what is not.

“People assume that this policy does everything, and they don’t,” Drrennen said.

Those who like to travel can take some practical steps to manage the heat. Ms. Vargas has helped her clients move their afternoon tours to the cooler evenings, but because this travel season is so busy, last minute spots can be hard to find. 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.” Using an umbrella as a sunshade can also help. She added that, looking ahead to travel next year, she is focusing on months like May and October.

Héctor Coronel Gutierrez, director of tourism at Madrid City Council, advised visitors traveling to his city in high summer to seek out green spaces, including Madrid Río Park, which has plenty of shaded areas and a fountain area where kids can splash in the water. . He added that although July and August are warm, the city is usually quieter than May and June, so it’s easy to avoid crowds.

It’s also easy to find air conditioning in Spain, although American visitors may find buildings warmer than they are used to. Earlier this week, in an effort to reduce energy consumption, the Spanish government announced that shopping malls, cinemas, airports and other no longer be allowed to set their thermostats below 27 degrees Celsius or 80.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

Still, the travel writer and tour operator Rick Steveswho recently returned from Spain, said summer travelers may feel more comfortable in Madrid than in a city like London, Paris or Frankfurt, where high temperatures — and air conditioning — aren’t the norm.

“Places that are used to crazy heat, like Spain, well, they have a lifestyle to suit that – they have a siesta, they have canvas canopies over the walkways so people can have shade as they walk around, they have restaurants that are designed to allow people to eat in airy places,” said Mr. Steves.

In addition to practical steps such as wearing sunscreen and drinking plenty of water, Mr. Steve’s travelers to book their museum tickets in advance to avoid queuing in the heat. When planning future trips, he echoed Ms Vargas by recommending people travel during the “shoulder season,” which his tour company now defines as April and October — no longer May and September.

“This is an adjustment period as we have to face the worsening impacts of climate change,” said Mr Steves, pointing to the irony of travelers bemoaning the higher temperatures as they hopped on their carbon-heavy flights to Europe. He suggested carbon offsets, but experts generally agree that those programs alone cannot cover the full carbon costs of our flights.

Even if we stop all greenhouse gas emissions today, there’s already a certain amount of extra warming baked into the system, said Dr. Rebecca Carter, who leads climate adaptation at the World Resources Institutea think tank based in Washington, D.C. But we haven’t stopped spewing climate-warming gases: carbon dioxide emissions are on the riseand the planet is warming faster than ever.

This summer’s intense heat “is no fluke,” said Dr. Carter, but rather “the beginning of a trend we’ll be seeing more of.”

The evidence on the ground in Europe is clear: in Britain, the 10 warmest years in the record books (dating back to 1884) have all happened in this century. In Germany, the average annual number of “warm days” (those with temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius – 86 degrees Fahrenheit – or higher) has risen significantly higher since the fifties. And in France, scientists have calculated that average temperatures in the northeastern city of Strasbourg are now about 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 come in the form of heat waves and other extreme weather events, many of which will disrupt travel logistics. (She pointed out that planes aren’t certified to fly above certain temperatures, a limit that has grounded flights in the past.) But when it comes to individual travel decisions, much of it will come down to personal tolerance.

“In the long list of factors we all go through when deciding where to go, when to go, or to go,” said Dr. Carter, “weather and climate change should be part of the calculus.”

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