The evolving climate crisis will pose a serious threat to the tourism industry, greatly impacting Greece. How will tourists react if their blissful Mediterranean summers transform into hellish climate disasters, with unpredictable heatwaves and droughts, unreliable water resources, disappearing beaches and eroding coasts and monuments? On the other hand, how do we expect to accommodate mass tourism without the further depletion of our natural resources?
Maria Kanakidou, professor of environmental chemistry at the University of Crete, says: “In recent years, climate change has clearly manifested itself in extreme weather events – hurricanes, wildfires, floods, storms – which are impossible to overlook. It is about time we acknowledged the threat of irreversible climate change. At our current pace, the coldest day in 100 years’ time will be today’s hottest.” Kanakidou moderated the 2nd Forum on Climate Change and Tourism in June, organized on Crete by the national network on climate change CLIMPACT.
Kanakidou further elaborated: “The consequences of climate change have materialized in many ways which negatively affect tourism and therefore Greece’s GDP, and will continue to do so. High temperatures create unfavorable conditions for visitors, leading to discomfort, even at night. High heat also requires higher energy consumption for cooling and air conditioning, which contributes to increased costs and environmental pollution from energy production. Droughts lead to a drop in the water table, resulting in brackish water entering underground reservoirs. On Crete, the lower snow cover threatens the stability of water reserves and could trigger serious water supply issues. Coastal erosion is another major problem, as it’s simultaneously eliminating the coasts’ natural beauty and destabilizing infrastructure.”
The increasing frequency of intense or extreme weather events also negatively impacts tourism, “an industry which relies on a sense of security in order to grow. The more frequent fires, storms, floods and cyclones become, the more concern there will be. This concern will serve as a deterrent to further tourism, which is founded on the natural beauty of the sea, mountains, caves etc.”
The climate crisis will have severe consequences on all the aforementioned ecosystems. The climate has been damaged to a point where it can no longer regulate itself, and we are seeing that in forms such as falling crop yields and increases in the population of certain insects that can spread diseases previously rare in Greece that can harm trees and humans.
Despite the multitude of worrying trends, one positive aspect is the extension of the tourist season. Higher temperatures make it possible to stay in coastal areas deeper into autumn and earlier in spring. Still, this cannot be counted as an outright gain. Firstly, if part of the summer season becomes unbearably hot, those losses will need to be made up for. Also, as the forum was told, as northern countries’ climates become hotter, we could potentially see a migration of tourists away from the hotter Mediterranean.
Manolis Plionis, director and chairman of the board of directors at the National Observatory of Athens, and coordinator of CLIMPACT, told Kathimerini that “tourism is a sector that will be significantly affected by climate change. Countries like Greece, which rely heavily on this sector for a significant part of their GDP, thoroughly need to study the expected impacts in every region and develop policies to adapt the sector to the imminent changes. The Greek scientific community has contributed through the shared expertise of the CLIMPACT network.”
“Tourism is an activity with a large carbon footprint and wide environmental impacts. The overwhelming production of waste, high energy consumption – which contributes to climate change – and unsustainable water consumption, as well as other non-renewable resources, require rethinking,” Kanakidou said. As presented at the forum, numerous large tourist corporations are taking measures: managing food and wastewater, using renewable energy sources, and also trying to raise awareness among customers – for example avoiding changing towels too often.
“Tourism trends and tourist behaviors are changing. New, more environmentally friendly and nature-oriented forms of tourism are developing, such as ecotourism and agritourism. The percentage of visitors not staying in large hotel complexes is expanding – a trend which has been catalyzed by the pandemic, during which the number of Airbnb rentals on Crete doubled.”
The programs at the research station of the University of Crete in Finokalia and the research station of the Demokritos National Center of Scientific Research at the top of Mount Helmos contribute to educational and nature tourism. “These are beautiful places worth visiting. There, we offer information about the work carried out at the stations and climate change,” says the University of Crete professor.