Home International Record heat in southern Europe sends travellers heading for the Nordics

Record heat in southern Europe sends travellers heading for the Nordics

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There are indications that travellers are already consciously changing their habits, according to the European Travel Commission.

Wild fires engulf the woods near the village of Pournari, in the area of Magoula, some 25km southwest of the Greek capital Athens. Picture: AFP

By Sarah Rappaport

HOLIDAYMAKERS are turning their eyes toward Norway, Denmark and Sweden, as a heatwave encompassing southern Europe embodies the start of what could be a longer-turn shift away from popular spots that are increasingly dealing with long stretches of extreme weather.

Rebecca Masri, founder of luxury travel app Little Emperors, says bookings to Scandinavia are up 20% compared with this time last year.

She attributes an increase in the past few weeks to the weather in southern European destinations, where the temperature has skyrocketed to near records in recent weeks.

One of her clients who was recently in Sardinia, Italy – where temperatures have topped 48C – said she spent most of the trip indoors due to the extreme heat.

She says people have inquired about cancelling trips, but many are locked into non-refundable bookings. Many travel insurance policies will not refund simply because of high temperatures.

The heat has turned deadly, with wildfires ravaging parts of Greece, Italy and Spain.

Thousands of tourists have evacuated Greece as more than 35,000 hectares of forest have burned across the country.

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In Italy, wildfires temporarily shut down Palermo’s airport, as flames blazed around its perimeter.

There are indications that travellers are already consciously changing their habits, according to the European Travel Commission.

A commission report in April said that 7% of travellers see extreme weather as a concern for trips happening between June and November.

The Mastercard Economics Institute noted a shift toward cooler regions as well, and said that Europe’s hotter days and heat waves have been sending travellers northward.

“A lot of clients know that it’s going to be hot when they book Italy, Greece, Spain, France, etc., during July or August,” says David Melkonian, founder of travel booking site Comperk, who said enquiries for Scandinavia have increased. “But 36C and over consistently for your entire vacation is too much.”

Visit Norway, the country’s tourism agency, says it looks like bookings in 2023 will surpass 2019 levels, but it is still early days.

The agency predicts soaring summer temperatures across southern Europe could prompt a lasting change in preferences.

Sweden is also seeing record interest in the country as a destination – and cites the weather as one factor.

The average temperature in Oslo in July is around 17.5C. The Thief, a five-star hotel in Oslo, is beating 2019’s pre-pandemic occupancy and revenue.

“When we talk with our guests, they tell us they thought about heading to different destinations like London, Paris, or the typical southern European spots, but came to Norway because from the climate point of view it was the better option,” says Robert Holan, general manager of the Thief, which counts Rihanna and former president Barack Obama among its notable previous guests.

Peter Anderson, managing director of luxury travel and lifestyle agent Knightsbridge Circle, which charges membership fees of $50,000 (about R890K) a year, says he’s chartering yachts for his clients in the fjords of Norway and suggesting breaks to the area that offer peace of mind in a time where southern European travel can be uncertain.

A tourist takes photos of an Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) over the Bals-Fiord north of the Arctic Circle, near the village of Mestervik. Picture: Reuters

“We are noticing this in a big way,” says Gareth Brauteseth, head of business development at 62°NORD Hotels & Adventures, a bespoke collection of hotels and experiences. He says bookings are up from 2019.

“While this is by no means St. Tropez or Monaco, there’s now a whole host of super yachts coming to the area. The real high-end market is looking at the fjords as a place to go.”

Kathy Boate, CEO of Cartology Travel, says her clients who have already booked trips in hot areas are still committed to going, but she thinks there will be a change in booking patterns next summer.

She recently did a seven-day drive-and-ferry tour through Norway’s fjords in an electric Porsche, down the famous Atlantic Road seen in James Bond, and calls the Nordics the “perfect combination of city and nature.”

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