How climate change could affect tourism in Spain

by Deborah Cater
Spain tourism affected by climate change
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The impact that a rise in temperature through climate change will have on sun and beach destinations, in mountain areas and on the entire transport infrastructure and on holiday behaviour is described in a report from the Ministry of Ecological Transition.

The report, ‘Impacts and risks derived from climate change in Spain’, lists the risks over a 30-year horizon. The newspaper El Mundo extracts the consequences for tourism.

Last January, storm Filomena blocked Barajas airport for hours, causing day-long delays and problems in air traffic. Due to the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, passenger numbers at this airport, one of the most important in the world, were minimal and so was tourism in the city. In a January of a normal year, the collapse would have been monumental. 

In August, it was not the cold, but the heat that caused Greece, another top sun and beach destination, to experience an unprecedented heat wave with temperatures approaching 50 degrees. This caused a spate of wildfires. One of the most striking scenes that resulted was that of thousands of tourists being evacuated by ferries in the middle of the night, surrounded by flames. 

These are just a few examples that illustrate the impact of these hitherto anomalous climatic fluctuations on the nearest tourism. The prediction is that in a few decades they could change the whole of tourism, the holiday destinations and the activities related to tourism and even the times of tourism itself. 

Sea without beaches 

According to the study, beaches as we know them will change. They become narrower as the sea level and waves rise. The water temperature will also rise with possible consequences for diving and other water activitiescarried out in rivers. 

Winter sports 

Winter tourism will also be affected. The Spanish ski resorts will have less snow and the season will be shorter. Snow below 2,000 meters may disappear, the report said. Of all the ski resorts in the Pyrenees (Spain and France) combined, in a scenario of four degrees of warming, only 7% of them would remain viable. 

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Climate change leads to different holiday periods 

The warming will also change the holiday periods. Summers may become too hot; which means the high season of the Spanish sun and beach destinations will shift from July and August to spring and autumn. 

More tourism for northern Spain 

Tourists, both national and international, will holiday in northern coastal areas, to escape the heat in the south and inland. Tourists from Northern Europe, now the main markets for Spain, are no longer coming because they have better weather conditions in their own country.

The report even mentions the possibility that Spaniards will then travel to those countries, especially in the summer. In this future scenario they exchange Benidorm for Gijón or Cádiz for the Norwegian fjords. 

According to the various studies used in the report, foreign visitors will reduce by 20% by 2080 compared to 2004. By the end of the century, more than 30% of the Spanish territory would have unfavourable conditions for tourism in summer in terms of sun and beach. The north of the country would be optimal. 

Mediterranean cities will be most affected, according to one study. The arrival of tourists to these destinations would decrease with a one degree increase in the annual temperature . 

Infrastructure 

The impact of warming on infrastructure also affects tourism; roadblocks or problems at airports, as we saw in the case of extreme weather events such as Filomena. For example, there is the possibility of damage and erosion to roads due to the increase of short but extreme rains. 

The same goes for trains. Also, the possibility of fires from heat waves and droughts and torrential rains could cause delays and cancellations to trains. Airports could experience increased wind and fog that can affect runway operations. 

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