Extreme heat in Europe is becoming the new normal — prompting tourists toward cooler destinations

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Tourists are evacuated as huge wildfire rages across Greece’s Rhodes island on July 22, 2023.
Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Sweltering conditions across southern Europe could accelerate a burgeoning trend among holidaymakers, as more tourists prioritize milder temperatures or off-season travel to avoid spending their time away in oppressive heat.

Europe is currently experiencing some of the hottest temperatures of the summer so far, with yet another heatwave expected to push the mercury close to record-breaking levels in the coming days.

An intense and prolonged series of heatwaves recently brought temperatures to over 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) in parts of Greece, eastern Spain and Sardinia and Sicily in southern Italy.

Data from the European Travel Commission, a non-profit based in Brussels, showed earlier this month that travelers planning to take trips between June and November this year decreased by 4% compared to 2022 — but remained at a high 69%.

Spain was the most popular travel destination, with 8% of respondents planning a vacation locally in the coming months, the ETC said. The southern European country was followed closely by France (7%), Italy (7%), Greece (5%) and Croatia (5%).

The popularity of Mediterranean vacation destinations, however, dropped by 10% compared to last year, when Europe experienced its hottest summer on record.

In Estonia, average summer temperatures in the Baltic country tend to hover around 20 degrees Celsius and the mercury rarely exceeds 30 degrees Celsius.
Nurphoto | Nurphoto | Getty Images

Meanwhile, the ETC said vacation spots like the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Ireland and Demark experienced a surge in popularity, attributing the findings to travelers seeking out less crowded destinations and the pursuit of cooler climes.

The trade body also said many planning trips in the coming months were looking for more affordable experiences or considering off-season travel to stretch their budgets.

Nearly a quarter of the ETC survey’s respondents said that they were worried about the overall rise of trip costs, while 8% cited possible extreme weather conditions.

‘Every single holiday flight makes global heating worse’

Emergency workers have been battling devastating wildfires over the past week in Greece — one of the most popular Mediterranean vacation spots.

Huge blazes on the Greek island of Rhodes forced an unprecedented evacuation of some 19,000 people on Sunday, while wildfires also broke out on the islands of Evia and Corfu.

It has left many holidaymakers stuck in limbo, with the BBC reporting on Monday that people forced to leave their hotels over the weekend have since been sleeping at the airport, as well as in sports halls, conference centers and on the street.

Tourists wait in the airport’s departure hall as evacuations are underway due to wildfires, on the Greek island of Rhodes on July 23, 2023.
Will Vassilopoulos | Afp | Getty Images

“Increasingly, this is what you will face if you holiday in southern Europe during the summer months,” said Bill McGuire, professor emeritus of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, on Twitter.

“And every single holiday flight makes global heating worse,” he added.

Scientists say the extreme weather sweeping across the globe reaffirms the increasing urgency of cutting greenhouse gas emissions as quickly and as deeply possible.

It also, the U.N.’s World Organization says, underpins why “we have to step up efforts to help society adapt to what is, unfortunately, becoming the new normal.”

‘A hard sell’

The decline in popularity of Mediterranean countries as vacation hotspots could coincide with an emerging trend of holidaymakers seeking new destinations with cooler temperatures.

In Estonia, for example, average summer temperatures tend to hover around 20 degrees Celsius, and spot readings rarely exceed 30 degrees Celsius.

Marketing campaigns to promote Estonia’s colder climate are not likely to be forthcoming, however.

“Obviously in terms of tourism marketing, it’s a bit of a hard sell,” Rainer Aavik, head of Enterprise Estonia’s tourism department, told public broadcaster ERR on July 18.

“As a whole, we are selling the Nordic experience and the fact that there is plenty of nature and fresh air. But positioning ourselves as an opposite to warmer countries is unlikely to benefit Estonia in the long term,” Aavik said.

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