How heat waves are changing tourism in Europe

It was mid-July, peak summer travel season, and the news from Europe wasn’t looking good: a heat induced”surface defect” briefly closed the runway at London Luton Airport. Trains were delayed or canceled in Britain due to overheating of the tracks. More than two dozen weather stations in France recorded their highest temperatures. And wildfires burned in tourist regions of France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece, including outside of Athens.

“If you were in the center of the city, you could look out and see the Acropolis, and in the distance you could see the red haze,” said Peter Vlitas, executive vice president of Internova Travel Group, who was in Athens during the wildfires, that firefighters have controlled ever since.

Mr. Vlitas added that he could smell smoke from his hotel and sometimes had to close the door to prevent fine ash from entering his room. But life in Athens, he said, went on more or less as usual.

“The taverns are full at night and the taxi drivers are busy, which is always a great barometer,” said Mr. Vlitas, still in Athens. “Greece is experiencing what the rest of Europe has: a record number of tourists.”

After more than two years of postponing vacations, travelers are reluctant to cancel their trips, even in the face of headline-grabbing weather. But several people in the industry described a growing number of travelers who are adjusting their plans to account for higher temperatures, whether by changing destinations, modifying their daytime hours or delaying their trips by a month or two.

Given the pace and trajectory of climate change, such changes are likely to become more common and more necessary in the coming years. That’s especially true for travel to Europe, a region climate researchers have described as a “hot spot” for severe summer heat, and where future heat waves are predicted to be longer, more frequent and more intense.

Even with the high number of tourists this summer, there are already subtle signs that the heat is causing changes that could become the norm in the future. Europe’s summer travel calendar has begun to stretch into the calmer (and cooler) months of April, May, September and October, as many travelers are starting to shift their itineraries north and towards the coasts.

Karen Magee, senior vice president and general manager of In the Know Experiences, said that starting in mid-July, her travel agency began receiving calls from clients asking if they could adjust their travel plans to account for the heat.

“That was new,” Ms. Magee said. “I can’t remember the last time we had people calling and saying, ‘Maybe we’re going to skip Rome and go for a more beach-friendly city.’ Or maybe they cut their itinerary short in the city and opted to hit the countryside a little earlier than planned.”

Dolev Azaria, the founder of Azaria Travel, helped a family make a last-minute decision to spend the first five days of their vacation in Amsterdam instead of Rome, just to avoid the heat. Other clients scrapped their plans for Tuscany and rebooked for Sicily, where they would at least get a Mediterranean breeze.

“The goal is to move a client from any heat-trapped city to a waterfront neighborhood,” said Ms. Azaria. “So places like Copenhagen and Amsterdam have come up, places that our customers might not have originally chosen to go to.”

But Ms. Azaria said that, so far, she has not had complete cancellations: “There has been a lot of pent-up demand. We’re basically condensing two years of travel into this summer.”

Looking ahead to next year, Ms. Azaria is planning for an extended summer travel season: “We’re already seeing summer really stretching into late September, even into mid-October,” she said.

Any traveler who might consider abandoning a trip due to extreme heat may find that their cancellation policies leave little opportunity for a refund. Clients of Jude Vargas, travel advisor and founder of Pyxis Guides, were worried about the heat on an upcoming family trip to Portugal, but ended up sticking with it.

“They were worried that their children would be outside,” Vargas said. “But because of cancellation policies, they just realized, ‘Okay, we’re engaged.'”

Even travel insurance is unlikely to cover travelers who cancel a trip due to a heat wave, said Dan Drennen, director of sales and marketing for the Travel Insurance Center. The only policy that would apply in such a scenario is “cancellation for any reason” insurance, Drennen said. He added that this type of insurance is typically 40 percent more expensive than regular coverage and typically reimburses a maximum of 75 percent of the total cost of the trip. He advised travelers to do their research and talk to a broker before buying insurance, so they understand what is covered and what isn’t.

“People assume these policies do it all and they don’t,” Drennen said.

Those who are committed to traveling can take a number of practical steps to control the heat. Ms. Vargas has been helping her clients shift their afternoon tours to cooler evening hours, but because this travel season is so busy, it can be hard to find last-minute spots. She also recommends traveling with a spray bottle with a fan attached, a portable device that she described as “a saving grace, especially if you have kids.” Having an umbrella to use as a sunshade can also help. She added that, thinking of traveling next year, she is focusing on months like May and October.

Héctor Coronel Gutiérrez, director of tourism for the Madrid City Council, advised visitors who travel to his city in the middle of summer to look for green spaces, including Madrid Río Park, which has many shaded areas and an area of ​​fountains where children can splash in the water. He added that while July and August are hot, the city tends to be quieter than May and June, so it’s easy to avoid the crowds.

Air conditioning is also easy to find in Spain, although American visitors may find buildings warmer than they are used to. Earlier this week, in a bid to reduce energy consumption, the Spanish government announced that shopping malls, cinemas, airports and other places will no longer be able to set their thermostats below 27 degrees Celsius or 80.6 degrees Fahrenheit. .

Still, travel writer and tour operator Rick Steves, who recently returned from Spain, said summer travelers may actually feel more comfortable in Madrid than in a city like London, Paris or Frankfurt, where high temperatures and air conditioning are not a problem. t the norm.

“Places that are used to crazy heat, like Spain, well, they have a lifestyle that accommodates that: they take siestas, they have canvas awnings over the hallways so people can have shade as they walk, they have restaurants that are designed to allow people to eat in ventilated places,” said Mr. Steves.

In addition to practical steps like wearing sunscreen and drinking plenty of water, Mr. Steves advised travelers to book their museum tickets in advance to avoid queuing in the heat. In planning future trips, he echoed Ms. Vargas’ recommendation that people consider traveling during the “shoulder season,” which her travel company now defines as April and October, not May and September.

“This is a period of adjustment as we prepare to live through the worsening impacts of climate change,” said Mr Steves, noting the irony of travelers complaining about higher temperatures even when board their carbon-laden flights to Europe. He suggested carbon offsets, but experts generally agree those programs alone can’t cover the full carbon cost of our flights.

Even if we stopped all greenhouse gas emissions today, some additional warming is already built into the system, said Dr. Rebecca Carter, who leads climate adaptation work at the World Resources Institute, a think tank. Washington, DC-based experts But we haven’t stopped spewing climate-warming gases: carbon dioxide emissions are rising, and the planet is warming faster than ever.

This summer’s intense heat “is not a fluke,” Dr. Carter said, but rather “the start of a trend that we will see more of.”

The evidence on the ground in Europe is clear: in Britain, the 10 hottest years on record books (going back to 1884) have all occurred in this century. In Germany, the average annual number of “hot days” (those with temperatures reaching 30 degrees Celsius, 86 degrees Fahrenheit, or higher) has trended significantly higher since the 1950s. And in France, scientists have calculated that average temperatures in the northeastern city of Strasbourg are now roughly equivalent to those seen in Lyon, which is about 240 miles to the south-southwest, in the 1970s.

Dr. Carter added that climate change will continue to come in the form of heat waves and other extreme weather events, many of which will disrupt travel logistics. (He noted that planes are not certified to fly above certain temperatures, a limit that has already prevented flights in the past.) But when it comes to individual travel decisions, much of it will come down to personal tolerance.

“In the long list of factors we all go through when deciding where to go, when to go, whether to go,” Dr. Carter said, “climate and climate change must be part of the calculus.”

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