How hot summers and disease could impact tourism in the Mediterranean

Countries in the Mediterranean are still reeling from the devastating economic effects of COVID-19, as travel restrictions continued across the continent this summer. Amid all this, these countries will still need to prepare for yet another threat to their tourism industry—climate change.

The mean temperature in the Mediterranean basin has increased by 1.4 degrees Celsius since the late 19th century—that’s 0.3 degrees higher than the global average increase across the same time. Absent targeted decarbonization, temperatures in the region are expected to increase by an additional 1.5 degrees by 2050.

The rise in temperatures in the Mediterranean could have damaging effects on the region’s agriculture systems, wine industry, and tourism, according to one recent case study in a broader climate risk research effort from our McKinsey Global Institute. One way climate change could affect tourism is by increasing the number of “unbearably hot” summer days in key destinations.

We expect the number of “too hot” summer days to double in some regions by 2050, impacting the tourism industry which today accounts for approximately 15 percent of the GDP of Mediterranean countries. For example, the number of days above 37 degrees Celsius (about 99 degrees Fahrenheit) in southern Spain, Turkey, and Egypt is expected to increase from about 30 to 60 by 2050. This spike in intolerably hot days could discourage tourism in peak season.

Antalya, a beach and resort city on Turkey’s southern coast, attracts more than ten million visitors each year, some 30 percent of all tourists who visit Turkey. By 2030, the city is projected to add about 15 days each summer that clock in hotter than 37 degrees Celsius. By 2050, Antalya will have added 30 such days to its summer. These peak summer months are crucial to the tourism industry in Antalya, generating 40 percent of each year’s visits and accounting for about 20 percent of Antalya’s GDP and about 2 percent of Turkey’s.

Similarly, Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada, important beach resorts in Egypt, are projected to have 30 days per year above 37 degrees by 2030 and 50 days by 2050, up from about 15 today. About half of the visitors to Egypt fly into one of these cities.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought tourism to a standstill in the Mediterranean but a warming climate can exacerbate the spread of other illnesses that may discourage tourists from visiting the region. For example, high summer temperatures have been linked with the increasing incidence of West Nile fever in Europe, a disease researchers expect may start to spread over the region by 2025. It’s not just traditionally hot countries at risk: The summer of 2019 saw the first reported case of West Nile virus infection as far north as Germany.

Mediterranean destinations could adapt to climate change in a number of ways. Tourist destinations could extend their shoulder seasons—the window between peak and off-peak travel months—as the Mediterranean climate changes. However, this may not be so simple. Large discounts already give tourists an incentive to travel outside the summer months, yet the summer tourist visit peaks have remained stable over the past ten years. One reason for this is that many tourists are restricted to traveling during school or work holiday periods.

Physical climate change will also require increased levels of investment to adapt to increased levels of wildfires, coastal flooding, and potential health risks—all of which could impact the region’s tourism industry. These costs will likely need to be borne across the continent but will be particularly intense in the Mediterranean basin.

In France, where ten million people visit vineyards, tasting rooms, and wine museums each year, climate-change financing for farmers has taken on new importance. Farmers there have received from the government more than $200 million per year since 2015, up from an average of $70 million per year from 2007 to 2014. About half of the support took the form of disaster compensation, while the remainder consists of subsidies for insurance programs.

These investments can also lead to more innovative programs across the region. For example, high-risk regions can monitor wildfire risk in real time, as the EU is doing in its EFFIS program, or monitor tropical diseases through more effective public health programs.

Climate change may harshen the Mediterranean climate and disrupt the region’s vital tourism industry. Governments in the region will need to invest in adaptation to protect farmers, winegrowers, and tourists—ultimately helping to preserve the region’s status as a prime vacation destination.

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