Spain and Italy are still popular vacation destinations in Europe, but the scorching heat in southern Europe is starting to influence travelers' decisions.
According to the European Travel Commission (a Brussels-based group of European tourism organizations), the number of Europeans planning to travel to Mediterranean countries in summer and autumn has decreased by 10% from the same time last year.
Spain, Italy and France were still the top destinations. However, places such as the Czech Republic and Bulgaria had experienced a "surge in popularity" this month, after the ETC conducted a survey with around 6,000 people.
The association stated that travelers are looking for destinations with milder temperatures and less crowds.
The extreme heat of last summer has been followed by this year's. In the future, a growing preference for cool vacation spots would be bad for countries along the Mediterranean Sea. This is especially true for those whose economies are heavily dependent on tourism.
According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, last year the travel and tourism industry accounted for 18.5% of Greece's GDP and more than 10% in Italy.
According to ETC's survey, Europeans are most concerned about the weather when they travel, with 7.6% citing extreme weather as their top concern.
According to a spokesperson from ForwardKeys, an online travel company, the UK has shifted its preference for cooler destinations in the north due to this month's heatwaves in continental Europe.
The spokesperson stated that 'it appears the increased awareness of heatwaves has led British travelers to search for last-minute summer destinations with milder temperatures'.
Olivier Ponti is a senior researcher with ForwardKeys. He said that online searches for flights in southern Europe during the peak months of August and July in the United Kingdom accounted for only 58% of the total number of searches for flights at the beginning of July. This was down from 62% one month earlier. Online searches for northern European destination increased by three percentage points, reaching 10%.
Heatwave 'only just started'
The heatwave has been unrelenting in Italy, Spain, and Greece for days. But the European Space Agency warned last week, that it had only just begun.
According to the ESA, on Tuesday, the land temperature reached 45 degrees Celsius in Rome and 50 degrees Celsius in Nicosia in Cyprus and Catania in Sicily.
In a statement, the ESA stated that 'as climate change takes hold, heatwaves such as these are likely to become more frequent and severe, with wide-ranging consequences'.
Johan Lundgren (CEO of British airline easyJet, ESYJY) told reporters on Thursday that heat waves had not stopped tourists from vacationing in their usual destinations. However, he added that easyJet had the flexibility to adapt its routes in future if the vacationers' tastes changed.
The sweltering temperatures are forcing tourist hot spots to adjust their offerings.
The Greek authorities announced Thursday that they would close the Acropolis, as well as other archaeological sites between noon and 5:30 pm local time until at least Sunday. The Greek meteorological service warned that temperatures would continue to rise this week, and could reach 44 degrees Celsius over the weekend.
According to Rome's chief of civil protection Giuseppe Napolitano, this week several tourists in Rome have fainted from heat stroke, including a British visitor who fainted Tuesday before the Colosseum. The city set up a command centre to ensure that tourists waiting in line to enter tourist attractions have access to misting stations, water and shade.
Southern Europe remains popular among Brits
Many vacationers still choose to visit countries in Southern Europe despite the high temperatures.
Thomas Cook's spokesperson told CNN the company had not seen any difference in the number of customers who travel to Mediterranean countries.
The spokesperson stated that customers are happy to be heading off on holidays across the Med. Bookings have also been strong in recent months, just as they were earlier this year.
Sean Tipton, a representative of ABTA (an association of UK travel agencies covering 90% of the industry), told CNN that their members had seen 'zero cancellations', and that people wanted to take their holidays that they had booked in advance.
He said that Spain, Greece, and Turkey were still the'most popular' destinations. This has not 'changed' at all.