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NEWS / Climate change will shift European summer tourism north
Category: Tourism

Image: This beach in Barcelona might soon be less crowded as tourists start opting for less hotter destinations. Photo by Federico Giampieri on Unsplash

By Gracie Pearsall

Tourism in Europe is a major source of economic wealth and jobs. In 2016, travel and tourism contributed 630 billion euros to the European economy. In this lucrative industry climate and weather have a significant influence. When tourists plan a holiday, they usually check weather forecasts and schedule trips when the weather conditions are optimal. A recent report suggests, climate change will alter the attractiveness of certain European tourist destinations, the duration of holidays, and the timing of holidays. Experts project that as Europe becomes warmer and drier. But while southern Europe and the Mediterranean will experience a decrease in tourism, northern Europe and the Baltics will experience a tourism boom.  


Southern Europe and the Mediterranean

The Mediterranean is currently the tourism hotspot of Europe, and the tourism industry contributes 10% of employment and GDP in these countries. This region is already experiencing the effects of climate change. For example, temperatures are rising at a rate higher than the European average, and precipitation is decreasing. As a result, drought and wildfires are occurring more frequently. In the end of June, a wildfire spread through Portugal and Spain, killing 62 people and forcing the evacuation of thousands. A similar incident occurred in Italy in mid-July when a wildfire near Sicily hospitalized several people and forced resorts to close. News of deadly events during the height of tourism season will deter tourists from the Mediterranean. Additionally, rising mean temperatures will make southern Europe and the Mediterranean uncomfortably hot for tourists in the summer.  

Long-term projections estimate that by 2080 southern European and Mediterranean countries will lose up to 0.45% of their annual GDP to climate-based shifts in tourism. For countries like Spain, where tourism makes up a huge portion of their economy, this could mean 5.6 billion euros in lost tourism revenue each year.


Northern Europe and the Baltics  

Like the Mediterranean, the Baltics and northern Europe will also experience rising mean temperatures. However, hotter conditions in these regions will likely be favorable for summer tourism. The Baltics are witnessing rising water temperatures and less summer precipitation, both of which will entice summer tourists. Extreme weather events, particularly forest fires, will become more common in this region, regardless, projections show an uptake in tourism in northern Europe and the Baltics.

Hotter summers and decreased summer precipitation will make these previously unappealing colder destinations, very attractive to tourists looking for a warm, sunny holiday. Latvia, Estonia, Slovenia and Slovakia will likely see their tourism industries boom. The GDP of the southern European and Baltic countries could increase by .32% as a result of climate change. Unfortunately, such an increase would not outweigh the projected 0.45% loss in the Mediterranean countries, which means as a whole the EU will still lose tourism revenue.


Industry Adaptation

To combat climate-related tourism losses, the European tourism industry must become more resilient. For the demand-side of tourism, adaptation will be fairly easy because tourist make short term decisions and are not usually tied down to a certain destination (excluding tourists with holiday homes). To reduce the impact of climate change on their holidays, tourists can change their type of holiday. For example, tourists might choose to forgo a beach trip in favor of a mountain trip. Tourists can also shift their beach holidays north to escape the stifling Mediterranean heat. They can also adjust the time of their summer holiday from the height of the season, when the heat is most intense, to the “shoulder seasons” (May and September) when the climate is better.

Adaptations on the supply-side of tourism will be more intensive. One strategy is to promote the “shoulder seasons” rather than the typical main seasons. For example, destinations could offer discounts to tourists who book their summer holidays for May or August. Another strategy would be to invest in measures that reduce the perception of heat. These measures could include shading, air conditioning, or more water features, so that even if the temperature is not optimal, tourist will have a pleasant time and demand will not be negatively impacted.