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Tour operator Tui has predicted the warming climate will prompt more people to take holidays in the cooler months and choose northern destinations such as Belgium after the scorching summer heatwave that sparked wildfires in southern Europe.
Chief executive Sebastian Ebel expects a rise in demand for holidays in the spring and autumn as Europe’s largest tour operator focuses on new trips to northern Europe including the Nordic countries and the Netherlands as well as Belgium.
“There will be changes,” Ebel said with Tui already planning to operate trips to Greece as late as mid-November, adding that the autumn months had seen “really strong” bookings.
“The Canary Islands . . . will benefit from a more moderate climate. We will [also] focus on new destinations like the Nordics, Belgium and Holland.”
Belgian tourism bodies played down the prospect of a sudden influx of holidaymakers seeking temperate climes, but said the country had plenty to offer whatever the weather.
The Brussels tourist board said the city had this year welcomed close to its 2019 record number of visitors, with the Belgian capital particularly popular with Spanish and Italian tourists.
“When I read what scientists say about [climate change] then in the next years there will be more tourists likely in Brussels but we don’t have any proof yet,” Jeroen Roppe, a spokesperson for the tourist board, said.
Stef Gits at the Flanders tourist board, which represents the Flemish half of Belgium along the coast, said it was “far too early to draw conclusions about a possible increase in our destination appeal due to climate change”.
But he added that Flanders had “historical art cities, green regions where it is nice cycling and walking and also a wide coastal strip” that “appeals to a wide audience every year”.
Tui’s Ebel said he still expected the traditional summer holiday destinations in southern Europe in July and August to remain popular with many holidaymakers.
“Is that a threat to the business around the Mediterranean? No, it gives us more opportunities for growth,” Ebel said as the German group reported strong demand for travel on Wednesday.
Southern Europe baked in July, with the extreme heat leading to the closure of some tourist attractions including the Parthenon in Athens and causing wildfires that disrupted holidays and forced evacuations.
Europe’s weather forecasting agency has warned the region should prepare for longer and more intense periods of high temperatures.
Still, many holiday companies, including UK budget airline easyJet, have reported little impact from the heatwave as demand booms for leisure travel.
Tui forecast a strong summer despite the southern Europe wildfires in late July when the company evacuated 8,000 guests from the Greek island of Rhodes.
The company said 80 per cent of its guests on Rhodes were unaffected, but reported disruption costs of €25mn, adding that the fires had led to a temporary dip in bookings.
“We had a small slip during the wildfires and the heat. This has now normalised again,” said Ebel.
Tui chalked up its first profitable early summer quarter since the Covid-19 pandemic, with demand and prices rising.
It reported earnings before interest and tax of €169.4mn in the three months to the end of June, up from a loss of €27mn in the same period last year. Revenues were €5.3bn, up by a fifth year on year.
Bookings for the summer season were up 6 per cent compared with summer 2022, with prices up 7 per cent.
Ebel said forward bookings were also strong despite the weak economy.
“We are looking very positive into the winter and [the rest of] the summer despite the consumer climate,” he said.