Will ‘prime fire season’ force a change to our summer holidays forever?

Will 'prime fire season' force a change to our summer holidays forever?

Wildfires on the Greek islands of Rhodes and Corfu have seen hundreds of British holidaymakers evacuated.

Civil protection authorities on Crete are now also warning of an extreme risk of wildfires.

It follows scorching temperatures across southern Europe, with tourist attractions in Italy and other traditional holiday destinations forced to close.

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Here Sky News speaks to tourism and climate experts about how extreme weather could change the summer holiday as we know it.

Will 'prime fire season' force a change to our summer holidays forever?

Are wildfires normal in Europe at this time of year?

The summer months always bring a heightened risk of wildfires in Europe, particularly in countries that border the Mediterranean.

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This is because the climate there brings mild and wet winters that allow vegetation to grow, which are then followed by dry, hot summers that cause that vegetation to burn easily.

“We are in the prime fire season of the Mediterranean,” Professor Stefan Doerr, director of the centre for wildfire research at Swansea University, says.

“Like other Mediterranean regions and islands, Rhodes and Corfu have ample flammable grass, shrub and conifer forest vegetation.

“This summer temperatures have been extreme, which has further heightened the normally high fire fisk there.”

He adds that coastal areas are always more vulnerable as sea winds and high ground can cause fire to spread faster.

Will 'prime fire season' force a change to our summer holidays forever?

Last year was the second-worst season for wildfires in Europe since 2000 – with blazes across 45 countries – damaging an area the size of Montenegro.

Spain was the worst affected, with three-and-a-half times the damage caused by fires in 2021.

Other popular holiday destinations like France and Portugal were also in the top five for surface area burnt.

Fire science Professor Guillermo Rein, of Imperial College London, says that although “there have always been wildfires” in southern Europe: “Climate change is making them larger, faster and harder to stop.”

Professor Doerr adds that the increase in hot-dry conditions we previously considered extreme will “accelerate for each added degree of warming in the future”.

Will 'prime fire season' force a change to our summer holidays forever?

Is the heat putting people off going to Europe in summer?

After 12 European countries broke monthly temperature records in 2022, two-thirds (67%) of UK holidaymakers said the extreme heat has changed their travel plans this year.

The poll of 2,000 people by InsureandGo Travel Insurance also suggested only a third (33%) were still planning to travel during peak summer season in 2023.

According to Paul Charles, founder and chief executive officer of the travel PR firm PC Agency: “There’s a realisation that going to southern Europe carries more risks than it did in the past.

“As we become more knowledgeable about climate change there are increasing numbers of people questioning whether to go to such hot climates during such hot periods.”

He tells Sky News that holidaymakers are increasingly opting for the spring and autumn months – and cooler destinations instead.

“We’re starting to look east not just south for our summer holidays,” he says, with Scandinavian countries and staycations in the UK and Ireland both emerging alternatives.

Will 'prime fire season' force a change to our summer holidays forever?

Figures from the European Travel Commission (ETC), also show a 3% fall in people travelling domestically on the continent from June to September compared to last year.

There was also a 10% decrease in interest in southern European countries.

Mr Charles adds that increasing extreme weather events mean fewer people are going away solely in search of warmer weather. “Experience and adventure are becoming more of a motivation too,” he says.

But Ryanair’s group chief financial officer Neil Sorahan says the airline’s figures still show “strong” interest for the peak summer months.

“We’re carrying 18 million passengers in July and August,” he tells Sky News. “There’s no shortage of people who want to get away having been locked up for years,” he adds, suggesting COVID travel restrictions may still be overwhelming any extreme weather concerns.

And while Italy, Spain and Portugal are still the most popular, they are seeing an increase in bookings to Scandinavia, central and eastern Europe.

Will 'prime fire season' force a change to our summer holidays forever?

How could summer holidays look in the future?

According to the latest study by World Weather Attribution (WWA), warming global temperatures mean heatwaves like those seen in July can now be expected every 10 years in Europe.

Professor Nigel Arnell, a climate system science expert at the University of Reading, tells Sky News that any return to “normal” summer weather conditions in the next few years will be made even more unlikely by the El Nino weather phenomenon, which has returned to Europe and will fuel a rise in global temperatures over the next 18 months.

He says this could change the way travel insurance companies and tour operators cover people if weather events impact their plans.

“There’s going to be more of a discussion around disinclination to travel,” he says.

“At the moment if you decide not to go somewhere because of the weather or heat – you’re not covered by travel insurance because the official advice is you’re allowed to go.

“But in the future, there may be scope for insurance to be arranged differently, with more flexible grounds for disclination to travel – or returning earlier.”

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Mr Charles says traditionally hotter regions and their tourist boards will have to do more to reassure tourists they have sufficient crisis planning and emergency service workers to deal with wildfires, flash floods or other extreme events.

“They’ll have to start being really clever from a marketing perspective – showcasing unaffected areas – like in the case of the Rhodes wildfires – areas with fewer forests.”

The ETC is encouraging the tourist industry to adopt its own climate change mitigation plans and invest in regenerative tourism.

Chris Haslam, travel writer at The Times, suggests the timings of the school holidays could change to avoid families being restricted to travelling in the hottest months.

“We need to change the school holiday system so people can go in the spring and autumn, so people can avoid these ridiculous mid-summer temperatures,” he says.


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