With deadly heatwaves in Greece, is it time for a PSA for tourists?

With deadly heatwaves in Greece, is it time for a PSA for tourists?

It all started with the alarming case of Michael Mosley. On the scorching summer day of June 9, the remains of the renowned British documentary maker were found on a steep cliff on the island of Symi, after a week of intense search and rescue operations following his disappearance. Both the coroner and the Greek police said that Mosley is believed to have died of heat exhaustion, after what they assessed was “continuous walking in the unrelenting sun, in a rocky environment.”

But the eerie streak of disappearances and tragedies involving tourists didn’t end there.

At least 10 different visitors have gone missing or have already been found dead in Greece this summer, as the country is battling an unusual spell of early heatwaves that seem more intense, more frequent, and more prolonged than any other June in living memory.

The latest victim of strenuous activities during the scorching heatwave was confirmed on Monday, when Greek authorities managed to detect the body of a 67-year-old German man in a gorge in southern Crete. And when it comes to all three remaining cases of disappearances – namely a 59-year-old French American on the island of Amorgos and two French women on Sikinos, who all went on hikes amid blistering heat – hopes of rescuing the missing tourists currently appear rather dim.

As disappearances and deaths of tourists amid scorching temperatures are already forming a sinister pattern for Greece, many believe it is time for a concentrated effort to communicate the dangers of prolonged heatwaves to the country’s visitors, in hopes that they will avoid dangerous, strenuous activities under the sun.

‘We had checked the weather forecast and we were aware of the heatwave, but it is a totally different beast when you actually experience it’

“We had checked the weather forecast and we were aware of the heatwave, but it is a totally different beast when you actually experience it,” says 52-year-old Mark, a visitor from the US who just spent a one-week vacation in Crete with his wife Laura and their two daughters. “We were originally planning to do a couple of hikes, but a combination of news, advice by locals and some common sense made us change our plans,” he adds, arguing still that targeted messaging might be a good idea “for those who are stubborn, ill-informed, or simply underestimate the weather.”

A first stab at such a communication effort was seen in a recent comment by the minister of health, Adonis Georgiadis, who said this Monday that holidaymakers need to be “very careful” while visiting the country as it is facing soaring temperatures, warning them to “not take unnecessary risks.” However, given the somber death count, it is clear that communication efforts may need to be doubled.

Risk communication campaigns and PSAs tailored toward visitors are not a new concept, as unusually hot summers in popular tourist destinations are gradually becoming the new normal.

In Italy, for a few years now, authorities have been advising visitors to avoid direct exposure to the sun during the hottest hours of the day and to stay hydrated – even encouraging tourists to take advantage of the distinctive public drinking fountains scattered throughout the country. In other countries, such as Lebanon and India, it has been NGOs such as the Red Cross that have led such communication initiatives, often taking their message to the streets and advising locals and tourists alike with useful tips on how to stay safe during extreme heat.

Athens has also put a system in place for communication, preparedness and mitigation of heatwaves, after being the first city in Europe to establish a chief heat officer, a position currently held by Elissavet Bargianni. Among other things, visitors can check out the CoolAthens website, where they will find specific tips on how to stay safe during a heatwave in Athens, or they can download the Extrema Global app, which displays the coolest routes for sightseeing in the city and the best paths for walking around during a heatwave. On both platforms, vulnerable groups such as babies, young children, people with pre-existing health conditions and the elderly are strongly advised to stay indoors in cases of extreme heat.

But the problem in Greece seems to be more noticeable on the islands, perhaps suggesting the need for a broader, targeted campaign at local airports, ports and other public locations in popular destinations.

In a recent article he wrote for Kathimerini English Edition, John Mazis – an author and professor of history at Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota – suggested an additional step that may also be lifesaving: better signage on hiking trails across Greece.

“My wife and I got lost twice, once in the Sarakina Gorge and another time when we were hiking around Vamos on Crete (in both cases there were signs by the local hiking club but a few more were needed)”, argued the professor, before warning that “[…] both times we found our way back fairly quickly, but if one was alone and dehydrated the outcome might have been different.”

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