How heatwaves are changing tourism in Europe – The New York Times | Gmx Pharm

It was mid-July, peak summer travel season, and the news from Europe was not looking good: A heat-related “surface defects” briefly closed the runway at London’s Luton Airport. Trains have been delayed or canceled across the UK due to overheated tracks. More than two dozen weather stations in France recorded their highest-ever temperatures. And forest fires raged in tourist regions of France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece, also 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, an executive vice president of Internova Travel Group who was in Athens during the wildfires, which the fire brigade has now brought under control.

Mr Vlitas added that he smelled smoke from his hotel and sometimes had to close his door to prevent fine ash from blowing into his room. But life in Athens, he said, goes on pretty normally.

“Tavernas are packed at night and taxi drivers are busy, which is always a great barometer,” said Mr Vlitas, who is still in Athens. “Greece is experiencing what the rest of Europe is experiencing – a record number of tourists.”

After more than two years of postponing their vacations, travelers are reluctant to cancel their trips, even with the headline-grabbing weather. However, several people in the industry described a growing number of travelers adapting their plans to the high temperatures, whether by swapping destinations, revising their daily schedules or postponing their trips by a month or two.

Given the pace and trajectory of climate change, such shifts are likely to occur more frequently—and more necessarily—in the coming years. That’s especially true when traveling to Europe, a region that climate scientists have dubbed a “hot spot” for extreme summer heat and where they predict future heat waves will be longer, more frequent, and more intense.

Despite the high tourist numbers this summer, there are already subtle signs that the heat is driving changes that could become the norm in the future. Europe’s summer travel calendar has started to expand into the quieter (and cooler) months of April, May, September and October as many travelers begin to shift their itineraries north and towards the coasts.

Karen Magee, senior vice president and general manager at In the Know Experiences, said that beginning in mid-July, her travel agency received calls from customers asking if they could adjust their travel plans to accommodate the heat.

“That was new,” Ms. Magee said. “I can’t remember the last time people called us and said, ‘Maybe we’ll skip Rome and go somewhere better on the beach.’ Or maybe they shortened their itinerary in the city and chose to head to the country 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 customers canceled their plans for Tuscany and switched to Sicily, where they would at least have a Mediterranean breeze.

“The goal is to move a client from a city with heat confinement to a waterfront proximity,” Ms. Azaria said. “This is how places like Copenhagen and Amsterdam came about, places that our customers might not have originally chosen.”

But Ms Azaria said she hasn’t had full cancellations so far: “There was so much pent-up demand. We’re basically condensing two years of travel into this summer.”

Looking ahead to next year, Ms. Azaria is planning an extended summer travel season: “We can already see that the summer really lasts until the end of September, even until mid-October,” she said.

Any travelers who want to cancel a trip due to extreme heat may find that their cancellation policy offers little opportunity for a refund. The clients of Jude Vargas, a travel consultant and founder of Pyxis Guides, were concerned about the heat on an upcoming family trip to Portugal, but ultimately stuck with it.

“They were concerned that their children would be outside,” Ms Vargas said. “But because of the cancellation policy, they just said, ‘Okay, we’ve committed.'”

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

“People assume that these policies will do everything, and they don’t,” said Mr. Drenn.

Those who like to travel can take a number of practical measures to deal with the heat. Ms. Vargas has been helping clients move their afternoon tours to the cooler evening hours, but with this touring season being so busy, last-minute spots can be hard to find. She also recommends traveling with a spray bottle with a fan attached, a portable device that she described as “a lifesaver, especially if you have kids.” An umbrella for sun protection can also be helpful. She added that she is focusing on months like May and October for next year’s travel.

Héctor Coronel Gutierrez, director of tourism at the Madrid City Council, advised visitors heading to his city in midsummer to seek out green spaces, including the Madrid Río Park, which has plenty of shaded areas as well as a fountain area where children can let off steam in the water squirt He added that while the city is hot in July and August, it tends to be quieter than May and June, making it easy to avoid crowds.

It’s also easy to find air conditioning in Spain, although American visitors might find buildings warmer than they’re used to. To reduce energy consumption, the Spanish government announced earlier this week that shopping malls, cinemas, airports and other venues will no longer be allowed 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 feel more comfortable in Madrid than in a city like London, Paris or Frankfurt, where high temperatures – and air conditioning – prevail. t the norm.

“Places that are used to crazy heat, like Spain, well they have a lifestyle that accommodates that – they have siestas, they have canvas awnings over the sidewalks so people have shade as they walk around, they have restaurants that designed to let people eat in breezy places,” said Mr. Steves.

Along with 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 and recommended people travel during the “off-season,” which his travel company now defines as April and October — no longer as May and September.

“This is an adjustment period where we are witnessing the increasing impacts of climate change,” said Mr Steves, who pointed out the irony that travelers are complaining about the higher temperatures even as they board their high-carbon flights to Europe. He suggested that tour operators should invest in climate change initiatives, climate smart agriculture and similar initiatives to reduce emissions from their trips to Europe. Carbon offsets are another option, but experts generally agree that these programs alone cannot cover the entire carbon cost of our flights.

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

This summer’s intense heat “is no coincidence,” said Dr. Carter, but “the start of a trend that we’ll see more of.”

The evidence on the ground in Europe is clear: in the UK, the 10 hottest years in the record books (which date back to 1884) have all occurred in this century. In Germany, the average annual number of “hot days” (with temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius – 86 degrees Fahrenheit – or higher) has increased significantly since the 1950s. And in France, scientists have calculated that average temperatures in the northeastern city of Strasbourg today are roughly the same as those observed in Lyon, some 240 miles 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. (She pointed out that planes aren’t certified to fly above certain temperatures, a limit that has historically grounded flights.) But when it comes to individual travel decisions, a lot will come down to personal tolerance.

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

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