Do the classic summer holidays in the Mediterranean still have a future? The experts give the answers in this Euronews interview.
The tourism industry, which contributes significantly to Europe’s gross domestic product, could be exposed to considerable burdens due to climate change.
This assumption is more than mere fear, as it is supported by an EU Commission study with facts and figures.
This could hit the prospective continent hard, especially considering that recent heat waves with temperatures around and even above 40 degrees Celsius in the Mediterranean region have caused great uncertainty in terms of reserve figures.
Spain, Italy and Greece are some of the EU countries whose economies are especially oriented towards the tourism sector.
The study of the European Commission was carried out by David García León, Analyst of Climate Impacts and Adaptation Policy of the European Commission. It shows a clear pattern of north-south shift in tourism demand in Europe: northern regions benefiting from climate change and southern regions facing a significant decline in tourism demand.
“There is no decline, but change”
Jean-Pierre Mas, president of the French association of travel agencies “Entreprises de Voyage”, disagrees: “There will not be a dramatic decline. On the contrary, there will be a gradual change.” How will this change come about? It will be produced in two movements or in two phases, if I may use the expression. On the one hand, the French, who have suffered a lot from the heat this summer, will try to find destinations that are a little less hot, that is, less to the south and a little more to the north, whether it is the north of France, but also in the northern Europe, that is, destinations where it is not so hot in July and August.
Mauritius, for example, is now the ninth most important summer destination for the French, despite the fact that Mauritius is winter in July and August. So behavioral changes are slowly taking place. But this does not mean that tourism is going to collapse in countries like Greece, Spain and Italy. The season will not be limited to July and August. It will continue through the spring and fall. What does this mean? People will travel to Andalusia in spring, to the Greek islands in spring or autumn and a little less in summer.”
Europe is the most visited region in the world, according to calculations by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). In 2020, Europe generated 41% of all global tourism receipts and recorded 51% of all international arrivals, which is equivalent to 582 million tourists.
When Lauterbach tweets from his vacation in Italy…
A tweet from German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, reporting from his vacation in Tuscany, caused irritation in Italy. Lauterbach wrote:
“The heat wave is spectacular here. If it continues like this, these holiday destinations will have no long-term future. Climate change is destroying southern Europe. An era is coming to an end.”
In his tweet, Lauterbach referred to a European weather map produced by the Helmholtz Climate Initiative.
Italy allays German concerns
The reaction of the Italian Minister of Tourism, Daniela Santanchè, was not long in coming: “I want to thank the German Minister of Health for having chosen Italy as a destination, which has always been the favorite vacation spot for his compatriots. We are sure that the Germans will continue to appreciate holidays in Italy,” he declared, adding that Italy is aware of climate change, which affects not only southern Europe, but the entire planet.
The Italian Tourism Association: “Difficult to find another place”
Even more confident and optimistic was the president of the Italian Federation of Travel and Tourism FiavetGiuseppe Ciminnisi: “Certainly tourism has changed in the name of greater sustainability, but as organized tourism companies we assure Minister Karl Lauterbach that if he wants to travel further south, for example to Sicily, Apulia, Calabria, it will be difficult for him to find a place even in this hot weather”.
The motto of Italy: do not be alarmed
Ciminnisi continues: “Climate changes will not stop people from going to the sea, the mountains or the lake, discovering cities that are world heritage sites, discovering new places and trying foods that cannot be found elsewhere.” Since Ulysses, traveling around the Mediterranean has been an indispensable factor for human enrichment”.
No sudden change from south to north
However, the interest of many vacationers in Europe is changing, very slowly but perceptibly, says the president of the French Association of Travel Agencies, Jean-Pierre Mas, in an interview with Euronews:
“This summer, the destinations chosen (from the French edition) are Greece first, Spain second and Tunisia third, therefore the three warmest countries, and the Antilles. Yes, there was an increase in visitors to Scandinavia, for example, and there was an increase in visitors to the Hauts de France, the northern part of France, or Alsace for French-speaking tourism. But it cannot be said that there has been a retreat from the south to the north. This movement will be gradual and not all at once, not there will be an abrupt process. But tourism professionals from countries like Spain, Greece and Tunisia have to be prepared that the number of visitors will be lower in July or August and certainly higher in June and September in the future.”
“Relatively good summer for Spain, Greece and Italy”
But there is another very simple reason why the tourism sector in southern Europe does not fall into pessimism. These are the habits of vacationers, who usually book their trips months in advance.
Olivier Ponti, of Forward Keys consultancyexplains it in an interview with Euronews: “I think the situation is encouraging for destinations like Spain, Greece and Italy, which should have a relatively good summer despite everything. Why? Because reservations for the summer season are they did in the first half of the year so the current events will mostly affect last minute bookings and these make up a minority of bookings so I think travel agencies and tour operators in these areas should be able to do good business in the summer. In the places that are most affected, I am thinking of places like Rhodes or Sicily, the situation will obviously be more difficult, because there are massive waves of cancellations there, simply because it is not possible to have a pleasant summer vacation in the current circumstances”.
The prospect of more pleasant summer weather is rather modest: “In general, you have to be prepared for it to get even hotter and tend to be drier,” says climate expert Hans-Martin Füssel of the European Climate Agency. Environment EEA in Copenhagen.
In addition, many of the popular cities in the south are heating up especially quickly, so their own inhabitants flee to the coasts or take a nap. In summer, the weather conditions in Europe also last longer and longer, says Füssel: “A heat wave does not end after one, two or three days, but lasts much longer”, to which is added an increase in the rainfall.
The favorite holiday destinations of Germans
The Federal Statistical Office in Wiesbaden confirmed the July 17, 2023: The favorite destinations for Germans to travel abroad in 2022 were Italy (14%), Austria (14%), Spain (11%), France (7%) and the Netherlands (7%).
These five countries remained the main foreign destinations for travelers from Germany both before, during and after the pandemic.
There were no mass cancellations due to heat waves in parts of Spain and Italy, Olivier Ponti, a travel specialist, said in an interview with Euronews: “Wherever the temperatures are high, we don’t see waves of cancellations , but significantly fewer new bookings. And there is a shift towards destinations that allow visitors to enjoy their holidays without having to spend most of their time in air-conditioned rooms. It is important to remember that we are still in the period of recovery from the COVID crisis. Destinations such as southern Europe, Italy, Spain and Greece are benefiting greatly from the resurgence in travel demand. In the case of Greece, more visitors are already expected than before the pandemic. And in the case of Italy and Spain, these countries are almost back to pre-pandemic levels, so the overall picture has been very positive for these destinations, and most visitors are also filling their reservations. So I think the summer season will be good regardless of heat waves, wildfires and rains. The climatic catastrophes that we are experiencing will affect last-minute reservations above all, but not the bulk of the reservations. So I think it should be a good season.”
Important economic factor: foreign tourists
According to the European Travel Commission, a non-governmental organization that promotes Europe as a tourist destination around the world, the European travel market is also basically on the rise. In terms of traveler arrivals to Europe, 95% of 2019 levels have already been reached this year, he noted.
High consumer demand remains strong despite stubborn inflation and rising travel costs. This is also due to vacationers from the US, who benefit from the favorable exchange rate. According to the European Travel Commission, Portugal (+79%), Turkey (+78%) and Montenegro (+43%) are experiencing particularly large increases in tourists from the US.
In general, the trend is towards countries that offer good value for money. The evaluations of the European Travel Commission up to and including May 2023 have shown that four countries in particular benefit from this reputation: Serbia (with 27% growth in the current year), Bulgaria (+21%), Montenegro (+12%) and Turkey (+ 9%).