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Several studies released early this year identified Europe as 2023’s most in-demand destination among U.S. travelers, as Americans continue to pursue the bucket-list trips they were prevented from visiting during the pandemic. And, every year, the Continent’s own residents largely head to the E.U.’s southernmost countries to enjoy their summer holidays in sunny climes.
These are a couple of the factors that led to this season’s massive influx of tourists being experienced across Europe, resulting in jam-packed crowds and—when combined with the unnatural heat wave that’s currently scorching such Mediterranean as Italy, Greece and Spain—terribly uncomfortable, even dangerous, conditions.
London-based CNN correspondent Anna Stewart told the outlet that the punishing weather conditions are “really changing how tourists are experiencing parts of Europe”. She continued, “For instance, in Athens, the Acropolis has been shut; in Rome, there are stations where the city has set up a sort of command center so tourists have access to water, to misting stations and to shade, because it is dangerously hot and some people are passing out as they queue for attractions.”
This year’s tourists may not be willing to change their travel plans due to Europe’s swelteringly hot conditions, but future vacationers’ preferences may be altered by an atmospheric pattern that's now emerging after two consecutive years of unprecedented summer heat waves affecting the region.
Industry insiders are already seeing signs of a shift among vacationers away from hotter destinations in favor of areas with historically cooler temperatures. While Americans may be unwilling to deviate from their plans to experience their dream destinations this year, European residents’ plans are proving to be influenced more readily by the high-temperature trend.
According to CNN’s report, a European Travel Commission (ETC) study found that the number of European tourists planning trips to Mediterranean locales this year fell by 10 percentage points, compared to the same period last year. The organization also found that Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Croatia—some of Europe’s literally hottest spots—continue to be its most popular destinations. However, it also saw a “surge in popularity” in cooler locations, like the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Ireland, and Denmark.
“This can be attributed to travelers seeking out less crowded destinations, and milder temperatures,” the ETC reported. “As climate change takes grip, heat waves such as this are likely to be more frequent and more severe, with far-reaching consequences,” the ESA said in its statement.
A spokesperson at travel data company ForwardKeys also told CNN that, among U.K. vacationers, “there has been a shift in preference towards cooler and more northern destinations” due to Southern Europe’s blistering temperatures. “It appears that the increasing awareness of heat waves has prompted British travelers to seek out last-minute destinations with milder temperatures this summer,” the spokesperson said.
Trevi Fountain, Rome, Italy (Source: Getty images/ Eva-Katalin)
“It’s hard to say whether people are necessarily avoiding Southern Europe at this stage,” Stewart reported. “There aren’t the cancellations you might expect. Possibly because, actually, cancellation policies don’t include extreme heat in terms of your insurance, but it might be a shift over the years, particularly as we had a heat wave in Europe this year and last year. It may make tourists reconsider whether they want to hit up Southern Italy or Greece in August next year.”
This emerging trend might prove ultimately an unwelcome portent for multiple Mediterranean countries whose economies rely heavily on tourism dollars. For instance, the tourism sector contributed 18.5 percent to Greece’s GDP last year and over 10 percent of Italy’s national economy, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).
As humanity’s reliance on fossil fuels and other pollutants continues to heat up the whole planet, setting off any number of unforeseeable changes in global weather systems, experts have warned that heat waves and other such extreme conditions will become more common, more intense and more deadly. Already, research has shown that nearly 62,000 people died of heat-related causes during Europe’s scalding summer heat wave last year.
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Laurie Baratti is a San Diego-based journalist whose work has previously appeared in publications like TravelAge West, SPACE,...
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