Tue, 05 Dec 2023

ATHENS, Greece: The Greek island of Rhodes, which is known for its beaches and ancient sites, is still recovering after 11 days of devastating wildfires in July.

Following thousands of people being evacuated during the height of the travel season, Rhodes is now reflecting on how the crisis will affect its vital tourism sector, which accounts for most of its economy and some 20 percent of the entire Greek economy.

Other Mediterranean destinations, such as Italy and Spain, also saw their tourism sectors hit hard by heat waves and wildfires this summer.

According to European Union (EU) estimates, Greece, Italy, Algeria and Tunisia lost more than 1,350 square kilometers (520 square miles) to fires that affected 120,000 people in late July.

Greece is expecting further extreme heat in the coming days.

However, Rosa Mara Lopez, mayor of Villardeciervos in northwestern Spain, which was ravaged by fires last summer, said hikers are still coming to the area.

"Tourism is bound to suffer a bit in the next few years, whether we like it or not. On the hiking trails, there are no trees, and it is very sad to see. But this area is still highly valued by tourists, in spite of everything. We will have to adapt," Lopez said.

Olivier Ponti, vice president of insights at ForwardKeys, a travel data company with access to airline industry ticketing data, said that the wildfires have driven away tourists from hard-hit parts of Greece and Italy, with Rhodes and Sicily witnessing mass cancellations of flights.

"While travel to Greece, overall, has not been hit too hard, Italy is not as lucky. Wildfires have caused a slowdown in bookings for many Italian destinations, even places not close to the fires," he said, as reported by the Associated Press, noting a drop in tourism for Rome in the last week of July.

Hoteliers are also concerned in southeastern Spain's coastal resort city of Benidorm, a longtime favorite for British and Scandinavian tourists.

Antonio Mayor, chair of the hotel and tourism association in the Valencia region, which includes Benidorm, said, "If heat waves were to be repeated every summer, the impact on our economy would be significant. Our activity is centered on the three summer months," according to the Associated Press.

That trend could mean that tourists travel to Scandinavian countries or the UK, instead.

Tim Hentschel, CEO of digital booking platform HotelPlanner, said, "Record-setting temperatures in European countries, such as Greece, Italy and Spain, are not scheduled to ease up as we enter August, so it might be considered a much safer option to opt for a stay in northern Europe," as quoted by the Associated Press.

According to the World Meteorological Organization and the EU's Copernicus Climate Change Service, July was the hottest month on record.

Heat records foreshadow changes ahead as the planet warms, including more flooding, longer-burning wildfires and extreme weather events that put people at risk, scientists warned.

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