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The consequences for tourism of  climate change in the Mediterranean

  • We analyze the main trend indicators for tourism, including the perception tourists have of  climate, for the Mediterranean destinations  of Italy, Spain and Greece 

We have carried out an exclusive study of how climate change affects tourist perception and the resulting health of  Italy as a destination by comparing Italy with two of the main tourist destinations in the Mediterranean, specifically Spain and Greece, and we have analyzed their different tourism trend indicators that measure the dependence of the destinations on tourism and the various differences between them. By doing so, conclusions can be drawn about tourist spending and how climate change can affect such significant tourist powers. 

The dependence of these destinations on tourism 

To provide context to the study, reference is made to how the economies of Italy, Spain or Greece are closely linked to the health of their tourism industry. In Italy, the sector represents 13% of GDP, in Spain the contribution of tourism to GDP is 12% and in Greece it is even higher, 21%. 

According to the ICCA ranking, in 2022 Italy was the second European destination and the third in the world. When it comes to events Italy is also a powerhouse in business tourism. Furthermore, its tourism sector is highly seasonal, with summer being a key period. 

Regarding the spending made by tourists in these destinations,  in Italy international spending is mainly concentrated in the months of June and September, generating 50% of spending. In Spain, 47% of international spending is concentrated in the summer, while the months from January to April represent only 21% of international spending. For its part, in Italy the four winter months represent 20% of international spending. 

Another point that demonstrates how dependent Mediterranean countries can be on summer tourism is evident when analyzing mentions on social networks. Indeed, in Italy 11% of the mentions refer to the sea and sun product in 2022. A figure higher than that of 2019, when the sun and sea product represented 9% of the total mentions on social networks. 

Traveler interests and motivations  

The study also shows that products that are highly dependent on climate and good weather are among the five most discussed interests. Activities related to nature or sports represent 16% and 17% of the mentions respectively. 

In Greece, the dependence on these products is even greater, since nature, beaches and sports account for 54% of mentions on social networks. In Spain, (nature, sports, sun and sea) represent 42% of mentions on social networks in 2022. 

In essence, these countries attract visitors because of their culture, heritage, and gastronomy, but also because they are a good option when looking for warmweather and sun. 

The influence of climate 

But with increasingly intense and prolonged heat waves and the devastating storms that follow, ‘la dolce vita’ can become hell for travelers. This is what the destination must prevent and anticipate, and companies like Mabrian, leaders in tourism intelligence, are here to let destinations know the perception that visitors have of the climate. 

Are tourists satisfied or dissatisfied with this? And most importantly, is the weather a factor that alters their overall experience in the destination? The general satisfaction indicator of a destination is based on a combination of our indices of hospitality, product, perception of safety and perception of climate. Any change in one of the four indicators will influence the overall satisfaction attributed to a destination. 

The weather has become a frequent topic in tourist mentions by travelers. They comment positively or negatively on their experience taking into consideration factors such as high temperatures that prevent them from carrying out some activities. 

  • In Italy it is observed that, if in the months of July and August the perception of the climate was at an average of 89 points out of 100 in 2021, in 2022 we find an average of 86. Let’s note that the summer of 2022 was the hottest ever  in the entire history of Italy. 
  • The same situation is perceived in Spain and Greece: climate perception was on average 2.6 points lower in Spain, and even 5.4 points lower in Greece, between 2021 and 2022. 

What can we deduce? That perceptions of the local climate tend to be more negative during extreme summers. 

And why does it pose a potential danger to destinations? As shown above, the perception of the weather is a factor that the traveler takes into account when evaluating their experience positively or negatively. 

The danger is that if we continue to receive more and more negative mentions about the climate in the coming years, overall satisfaction with the destination will decrease and travelers could end up stopping visiting. At the moment this is not the situation, since it is not detected that the drop in climate perception is affecting the real demand of these countries 

In 2022 for example in Italy, overall visitor satisfaction exceeded that of 2021, supported by a good perception of the products offered, good satisfaction in hospitality and an excellent feeling of security. Thus, the decrease in climate perception is still attenuated by other indicators. The same pattern is repeated in Spain and Greece, for example. 

Interest in other destinations 

Analyzing flight searches by Italians for example to destinations in Northern Europe, we see a significant increase in interest between 2019 and 2023. For travel between July and August 2023, flight searches increased by 13% for Sweden and decreased by 22% for Spain. This could be a sign of a change in the behavior of Italians when choosing holiday destinations. 

It is still early to establish a change in behavior, also taking into account that this summer many factors have come into play when choosing a vacation destination, including inflation and the increase in hotel and flight prices, which are very important, as reflected in the analysis we carried out this summer, which you can consult here

We can see that last summer, on average, it was even cheaper to fly to Greece and Spain than to northern European countries. Furthermore, on average, hotel prices tend to be more attractive in some areas of the Mediterranean. So, yes, the traveler can choose their vacation destination based on the climate, but let’s not forget that the economic factor is becoming more and more important. 

Study conclusions 

  • Climate perception is significantly linked to any extreme weather event in a destination. 
  • Changes in climate perception are more pronounced in Mediterranean destinations due to the high concentration of tourists in the summer months. 
  • However, at the moment there is no impact on overall traveler satisfaction and demand for these destinations, due to the growing appreciation of other tourism products. 
  • It is still too early to determine whether Italians will prefer to spend their holidays in northern European countries, although there is a relative trend that shows an increase in interest. 
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