Europe is a hot spot for extreme summer heat and climate researchers predict that shifts in travel patterns will become more frequent.
It was middle July, peak season travel season. The news from Europe was not good. A heat-induced ” surface defect” temporarily closed London’s Luton Airport’s runway. Overheated tracks caused delays or cancellations of trains in Britain. More than two dozen weather stations in France recorded the highest temperatures ever. And wildfires were lit in tourist areas of France, Spain Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Portugal, even just outside Athens.
Peter Vlitas (executive vice president of Internova Travel Group), said that he was in Athens during wildfires which were brought under control by firefighters.
Vlitas said that he could smell smoke from the hotel and had to shut his bedroom door sometimes to stop fine ash from getting into his room. He said that life in Athens was pretty much the same as before.
“The taverns and taxibies are full at night, which is always an indicator,” stated Mr. Vlitas in Athens. “Greece has seen more tourists than any other country in Europe.
Travelers are reluctant to cancel after more than two years of delaying their vacations. However, industry professionals have spoken out to say that there is a growing number who adjust their plans to accommodate high temperatures. This could be by changing their destinations or rearranging their daytime schedules or even delaying their trips for a few months.
These shifts will become more frequent and more important due to the rapid pace and trajectory of climate changes. This is especially true when traveling to Europe. Climate researchers describe the region as a “hotspot” for extreme summer heat. They predict future heat waves that will be more frequent, longer and more intense.
Despite the high number of tourists this summer, there are already signs that the heat is causing changes that could be the norm. Europe’s summer travel schedule has started to extend into the cooler (and cooler!) months of April, May and September, while many tourists are shifting their itineraries to the coasts.
Karen Magee is a senior vice president at In The Know Experiences and general manager. She said that clients started calling her agency in July asking if she could change their travel plans to accommodate the heat.
Ms. Magee stated, “That was new.” “I don’t recall the last time that we had people call and say, ‘Maybe you’re going to skip Rome. Or maybe they cut their itinerary in Rome and decided to travel to the country sooner than planned.
Dolev Azaria, founder of Azaria Travel, helped one family choose to spend their first five days in Amsterdam over Rome. This was to avoid the heat. Others clients cancelled their plans to travel to Tuscany and booked for Sicily where they could enjoy a Mediterranean breeze.
Ms. Azaria stated that the goal was to get a client to move from a heat-trapped area to a waterfront location. “So, we have seen places like Amsterdam and Copenhagen that our clients might not have chosen to visit.”
Ms. Azaria stated that she has not had to cancel any of her travel plans. “There’s so much demand. This summer, we’re basically condensing the two years of travel.
Ms. Azaria said that she is looking ahead to next year and plans for a longer summer travel season. “We already see that summer really extends through September, even up until mid-October,” Azaria stated.
Travelers who are worried about extreme heat might have to cancel their trip. Jude Vargas, a travel advisor and founder of Pyxis guides, was worried about the heat during a family trip to Portugal. But, they decided to stick with it.
Ms. Vargas stated that they were worried about their children being outside. “But due to the cancellation policies they just realized, ‘OK, we’re committed.’
Travel insurance will not cover people who cancel their trip due to heat waves, according to Dan Drennen, director, sales marketing at Travel Insurance Center. Mr. Drennen stated that “cancel for whatever reason” insurance would be the only policy that would work in such an instance. This type of insurance is generally about 40% more expensive than regular coverage and usually refunds a maximum 75 percent of the trip cost. He recommended that travelers do their research and talk to a broker before purchasing insurance. This will ensure they are fully informed about what’s covered.
“People believe that these policies are all-encompassing, but they don’t,” said Mr. Drennen.
How to adjust on the road
Travelers who are serious about their travels can take several practical steps to reduce the heat. Ms. Vargas has helped her clients move their afternoon tours to cooler evening hours. However, this season can make it difficult to find last-minute spots due to high demand. Ms. Vargas also suggests that you travel with a spray-bottle with a fan attached. This is a handy device, particularly if you have children. She said that she is focusing her travel plans for next year on May and October.
Hector Coronel Gutierrez is the director of tourism for the Madrid City Council. He advised tourists who visit Madrid in high summer to look for green spaces. This includes the Madrid Rio Park which has many shaded areas and a fountain where kids can splash in the water. He said that while July and August can be hot, it is more peaceful in the city than May and June. This makes it easier to avoid crowds.
Although it is easy to find air conditioning in Spain you might be surprised at how warm the buildings are. In an effort to cut energy consumption, the Spanish government announced earlier this week that shops, cinemas, airports, and other venues would not be permitted to lower their thermostats below 27° Celsius (80.6° Fahrenheit).
However, travel writer and operator Rick Steves recently returned from Spain and said that summer tourists may be more comfortable in Madrid than they are in London, Paris, or Frankfurt where high temperatures and air conditioning aren’t common.
Mr. Steves stated that places that are used to extreme heat like Spain have a lifestyle that allows them to have a siesta and have canvas awnings on the walkways to provide shade for people while they walk, and they have restaurants that allow people to eat in sunny spots.
To avoid the heat, Steves recommended that travelers take precautions such as wearing sunscreen and drinking lots of water. He also advised them to book museum tickets well in advance. He echoed Ms. Vargas’ recommendation to plan future trips during the “shoulder Season,” which is now April and October according to his tour company.
Mr. Steves said, “This is an adjustment phase as we regear and live through worsening effects of climate change.” He pointed out the irony that travelers complain about higher temperatures while they travel to Europe on carbon-heavy flights. He recommended that tour companies invest in climate advocacy, climate smart agriculture, and similar initiatives to reduce the carbon emissions from their European travel. Experts agree that carbon offsets are an option. However, they cannot cover all the carbon costs of our flights.
Even if all greenhouse gas emissions were stopped today, some additional warming would still be present, according to Dr. Rebecca Carter, the leader of climate adaptation work at the World Resources Institute, which is based in Washington, D.C. We haven’t stopped releasing climate-warming gases. Carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise and the planet is heating faster than ever.
Dr. Carter stated that this summer’s extreme heat was not an accident, but “the beginning of something we’re going see more of.”
It is evident that the evidence in Europe is strong: The 10 hottest years (which date back to 1884) all occurred during this century. Since the 1950s, Germany has seen a significant increase in the number of “hot” days (those where temperatures reach 30 degrees Celsius — 86 Fahrenheit — or more). And in France, scientists have calculated that average temperatures in the northeastern city of Strasbourg are now roughly equal to those in Lyon, located about 240 miles south-southwest in the 1970s.
Dr. Carter stated that climate change will continue to be a problem in the form heat waves and other extreme weather conditions, many of which could disrupt travel logistics. She pointed out that planes can’t fly above certain temperatures have grounded flights before. Personal tolerance will play a major role in individual travel decisions.
Dr. Carter stated that “weather and climate change should be included in the long list factors we all consider when deciding where, when, or whether we go.”