Will extreme heat change holiday seasons or destinations?

Will extreme heat change holiday seasons or destinations?

Extreme weather conditions will alter tourism sector’s dynamics in the long-term, say industry representatives

By Nuran Erkul

LONDON (AA) –​​​​​​​ Climate change affects many sectors, but tourism is especially vulnerable as it depends on demand.

The main concern is whether people will choose to change their holiday seasons and preferences, opting for cooler destinations, or require tourism facilities to adapt to extreme weather in the long run.

July 2023, which has gone down as the hottest month in human history, witnessed a raft of extreme weather events across the globe due to human-induced global warming.

This summer, wildfires have ravaged some of the world’s top holiday destinations, from Rhodes, Corfu and Athens in Greece, to parts of Italy, Spain and southern Türkiye, severely disrupting tourism in these regions.

In Rhodes alone, over 19,000 people were evacuated as blazes raged out of control.

By all accounts, the effects of global warming will worsen over the coming years, with temperatures more than likely to climb and heat waves becoming more frequent.

The impact of this extreme weather on the tourism sector is all but inevitable.

“As temperatures continue to soar, travelers may reconsider visiting destinations prone to wildfires or experiencing prolonged heat waves during peak summer months,” Bulut Bagci, president of the World Tourism Forum Institute (WTFI), headquartered in London, told Anadolu.

“Instead, tourists might tend to seek cooler, less heat-affected regions for their summer vacations. Coastal destinations or mountain retreats that offer relief from extreme heat could become more appealing to travelers.”

Bagci emphasized that the challenging conditions brought about by heat waves and climate-related events could have long-term effects on the tourism sector.

“Destinations vulnerable to wildfires or extreme temperatures may witness decreased tourism traffic, resulting in economic losses for local businesses and communities heavily dependent on the industry,” he said.

He said these impacts could persist “if appropriate measures are not taken to address climate-related risks and enhance resilience.”

“Our observations suggest that the entire Mediterranean region’s tourism landscape is likely to undergo significant changes, driven by natural disasters,” he added.

According to Bagci, the changing climate and its impact on tourist behavior will require a reassessment within the sector and investors will increasingly focus on projects aligned with these changing preferences.

- ‘Any change will be gradual’

For Tom Jenkins, head of the European Tourism Association, the impact on the sector has not been quite as detrimental as feared.

There were some cancellations after the wildfires in Rhodes but “beyond that, we see very little diminishing demand,” he told Anadolu.

In southern Europe, despite the sizzling temperatures, there was almost no drop in demand.

“In fact, there was almost an increase, because it is actually quite cold in north Europe and the point is that people go to the Mediterranean in July because they want the heat,” he explained.

“Now, they got more than what they bargained for, but there was no falling off when these record temperatures came in.”

Figueres, a town in Spain’s Catalonia region, set a new temperature record of 45.4 degrees Celsius (113.7 degrees Fahrenheit) on July 18, while a station on the Italian island of Sardinia recorded 48.2C (118.7F) on July 24, according to World Meteorological Organization (WMO) data.

A WMO advisory has warned that the extreme heat could continue into August.

If all this does impact the dynamics of the tourism sector, it will take a considerable amount of time for any noticeable changes, according to Jenkins.

“A pattern has to be established when people expect it to be uncomfortably hot, rather than just hot. It is going to be a big shift for people to get the Mediterranean out of their holiday,” he said.

“It has, over the last 50 years, become a well-established family tradition. But if any change does occur, it will be gradual,” he said.

As preferences shift, hotels will adapt accordingly, Jenkins stressed.

They will focus on advertising the quality of their air-conditioning, the coolness of their swimming pools, and other ways of how they can give their guests respite from the heat, he added.

Both Bagci and Jenkins raised the possibility of the peak tourism season shifting from July to May, June or August, saying that the industry will follow the demand.

“The long-term effects on the tourism sector will largely depend on how well the industry can prepare for and adapt to climate-related risks,” said Bagci, asserting that “embracing sustainable practices and investing in climate resilience” remains key to its future. ​​​​​​​

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