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Scorching summer temperatures may change European travel patterns, tourism groups say

Soaring summer temperatures across southern Europe could prompt a lasting shift in tourist habits, with more travellers choosing cooler destinations or taking their holidays in spring or autumn to dodge the extreme heat, tourism bodies and experts predict.

European Travel Commission says 'unpredictable' conditions likely to affect future travel in Europe

A tourist cools off under a mist of cool water in Athens, Greece.

Soaring summer temperatures across southern Europe could prompt a lasting shift in tourist habits, with more travellers choosing cooler destinations or taking their holidays in spring or autumn to dodge the extreme heat, tourism bodies and experts predict.

European Travel Commission (ETC) data shows the number of people hoping to travel to the Mediterranean region in June to November has already fallen 10 per cent compared with last year, when scorching weather led to droughts and wildfires.

Destinations like the Czech Republic, Denmark, Ireland and Bulgaria have meanwhile seen a spike in interest.

"We anticipate that unpredictable weather conditions in the future will have a greater impact on travellers' choices in Europe," said Miguel Sanz, the head of the ETC.

A report by the trade body also shows 7.6 per cent of travellers now see extreme weather events as a major concern for trips between June and November.

  • Cross Country Checkup wants to know how wildfires, floods and extreme heat are changing your summer plans? Are extreme weather events changing the way you think about the future? Fill out the details on this form and send us your stories.

Among them are Anita Elshoy and her husband, who returned home to Norway from their favourite vacation spot of Vasanello, a village north of Rome, a week earlier than planned this month as temperatures reached around 35 C.

A boy cools off, in front of a large fan, near the ancient Colosseum, in Rome, Italy.

"[I] got a lot of pain in the head, legs and [my] fingers swelled up and I became more and more dizzy," Elshoy said of her heat-related symptoms. "We were supposed to be there for two weeks, but we couldn't [stay] because of the heat."

No wave of cancellations — yet

Demand for travel has soared again this summer as tourists leave behind years of pandemic restrictions, and travel companies say the heat hasn't caused many cancellations — yet.

Britons in particular have booked fewer holidays at home and more in the Mediterranean, often many months in advance, as they continue to crave post-lockdown beach escapes, said Sean Tipton of British travel agent group ABTA.

Tourists stand together to pose for a group photo in Rennes, France, underneath a shading device put in place to shade the street from the sun.

But that balance could shift as heat waves are set to become more grueling. Scientists have long warned that climate change, caused by CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels, will make extreme weather events more frequent, severe and deadly.

Meteorologists predict that temperatures in the coming week may surpass Europe's current record of 48.8 C — set in Sicily in August 2021 — raising fears of a repetition of last year's heat deaths.

Stories of tourists being airlifted off Italian beaches or ferried away in ambulances from Athens' Acropolis have flooded European media in recent weeks.

"Our recent research indicates a decline in the number of people interested in travelling in August, the peak month, while more Europeans are considering autumn trips," Sanz said.

Changing plans in future?

Tourists in Rome told Reuters they would think twice about booking a trip there again in July as they struggled to drink enough water, stay cool and find air-conditioned spots to rest.

A woman takes a drink from a public fountain in Madrid, Spain.

"I would come when it's colder. Only June, April," said Dalphna Niebuhr, an American tourist on holiday with her husband in the Italian capital this week, who said the heat was making her visit "miserable."

That's bad news for Italy's economy, which thrives on busy summer traffic.

Italy's Environment Ministry warned in a report this year that foreign tourists would in future travel more in the spring and autumn and choose cooler destinations.

"The balance will be negative, also because part of the Italian tourists will contribute to the flow of international tourism to less hot countries," the report said.

Some hope that the change will simply be a shift in traffic, not a reduction.

In Greece, where international air arrivals were up 87.5 per cent year-on-year between January and March, overcrowding in the summer has plagued tourist hot spots like the island of Mykonos.

A sign outside a pharmacy in Nimes, France, shows a temperature reading of 36 C.

Increased travel in the winter, spring and autumn months could ease that problem and make up for a potential summer slowdown, according to the Greek Environment Ministry.

Greek authorities closed Athens' ancient Acropolis during the hottest part of the day on a recent Friday to protect tourists.

In Spain, high vacation demand is expected in coastal destinations in the north of the country and on Spanish tourist islands, where summer temperatures tend to be cooler, according to a report from national tourism association Exceltur.

Spaniards Daniel Otero and Rebeca Vazquez, who were visiting Bilbao, said they might move their holiday to June next year, when it would be cooler and more comfortable.

For Elshoy, summers in southern Europe may be a thing of the past. In future, she may consider holidaying in her home country of Norway instead.

"I don't want to have a holiday where I have a headache and am dizzy again," she said.

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