Climate change will gradually drive tourism in Europe away from typical southern destinations and up to cooler northern regions, a new study from the European Commission has found.
The paper, titled “Regional impact of climate change on European tourism demand”, analysed data from 269 European destinations over a 20-year monthly timespan and found that, while tourism demand in Europe will grow overall, significant regional patterns will emerge. Not only will northern regions benefit at the detriment of southern ones, which will be facing “significant reductions in tourism demand”, but seasonality periods are also likely to shift from current peak summer months to spring and autumn. Under 4 different warming scenarios (1.5°C, 2°C, 3°C and 4°C) and two emissions pathways (RCP4.5 and RCP8.5), the higher the climate change effects, the greater the shift in tourism demand patterns.
In the 1.5°C and 2°C warming scenarios, most of the European regions (80%) remain largely unaffected, with an impact on tourism demand of between -1% and +1%. The highest decline is estimated to occur in Cyprus (-1.86%) while the maximum increase could happen in the Finish coastal region (+3.25%).
Under the 3°C and 4°C warming scenarios however, a clear north-south pattern emerges in Europe’s tourism demand. The Central and Northern Europe regions are projected to become more attractive for tourist activities year-round, to the detriment of the Southern and Mediterranean areas. In a 4°C global warming scenario, 80% of the regions are projected to increase their tourism compared to 2019. Growth rates higher than 3% in the number of bed nights are foreseen for a total of 106 regions (light to dark blue shaded regions in the map below). On the other hand, 52 European regions across Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus, Spain, France, Italy, Portugal and Romania are projected to lose tourist flows compared to base year 2019.
Coastal regions are projected to face the highest impacts in tourism demand for the higher warming scenarios, representing 63% of the affected European regions with tourism demand variations larger then +/- 5%. the largest losses are projected across Cyprus, Greece (-9% in Greek Ionian Islands), Spain, Italy and Portugal regions, while the highest gains are distributed across Germany, Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Netherlands, Sweden and United Kingdom (+16% in West Wales).
Besides geographical redistribution, seasonality is also expected to change considerably, with warmer destinations losing tourists in the summer, but seeing an increase in spring and autumn, and traditionally colder regions seeing a spike in summer.
Coastal regions in Northern Europe, such as the UK and Serbia, are projected to register a substantial increase in demand during summer and early autumn months, while, at the opposite side, summer tourist flows in the Southern coastal regions, such as Spain and Cyprus, will greatly decrease, especially in the scenarios of 3°C and 4°C warming. This drop will be partially, but not entirely compensated by an increase in spring, autumn and winter months.
Mountain regions in Central Europe, such as Austria and Romania, are expected to see the least variations, with the increase in the number of bed nights during shoulder seasons and winter ranging between +0.19% and +2%, depending on the warming scenario.
Overall in the European Union, tourism demand is expected to rise by 1.58% in the 4°C warming scenario, with demand increasing in spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November) and decreasing in summer. The month of April is projected to see the highest increase in tourist flows, growing by 1.96% in the 1.5°C warming scenario and 8.89% in the 4°C scenario, while the greatest decrease is projected for the month of July, with -0.06% in the 1.5°C scenario and -5.72% in the 4°C scenario.
Regardless of the scenario, the demand shifts will be gradual. The study emphasises that these trends become more pronounced over time and with increased warming, some top northern regions becoming suitable for summer tourism by end of century under the high-emissions (high warming) scenarios.
On the other hand, Vice President of consultancy Forward Keys, Olivier Ponti, pointed out to Euronews that the latest wildfires in Greece and Italy have only affected last-minute bookings, which are only a small part of demand, most people preparing their summer holidays early in the year. While noticing fewer new bookings for the hottest destinations, Ponti believes the summer season will remain good “regardless of the heat waves, the forest fires and the rains”. “The catastrophic climatic events that we are currently experiencing will mainly affect the last-minute bookings, but not the bulk of the bookings. So I think it should be a good season”, he explained.