When Olivia Newton John sang, “Summer days, drifting away” in 1978's Grease, perhaps she wasn’t thinking about climate change. But based on recent record-breaking heatwaves and predictions of even hotter summers to come, it is possible that summer days as the travel industry knows them really are about to fade away forever.
And if you think that hot weather is what fly-and-flop tourists want – so this can’t be bad for business – then think again. Looking at our own data based on our Mabrian Climate Perception Index – which uses advanced natural language processing, artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques to analyze social media in real time – we can see that this summer in France, Greece and Spain tourists were on average less satisfied with the weather this year than last.
Guess what? When it comes to the weather, which is perhaps the biggest driver of choice for destinations, unsatisfied customers don’t come back, regardless of whether or not the hotel or destination is to blame. While we can’t attribute this directly to the weather, we’ve also noticed via our other monitoring tools that during this period tourists in those countries are also less satisfied with their hotels and the destinations in general.
Meanwhile, based on our Climate Perception Index, conversely tourists in the U.K. this summer have shown an overall improved perception of the weather when compared to 2021. Coincidence? More likely to book again? You decide.
Working on the assumption that the trend for hotter weather is set to continue – and all the scientific evidence points that way – then how long will it be before we need to rethink our whole approach to “summer holidays” as an industry?
Two obvious answers exist: First, travelers could start visiting physically cooler places during the summer months; or they could start changing when they visit, for example coming much earlier or much later in the season.
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Concerning as all of this sounds, this does represent some opportunities for the travel industry. Less popular destinations will gain visitors, giving their economy a boost, while the massification problems the most popular destinations face will be reduced. All this while creating more stable, year-round (or almost year-round) employment in many destinations where currently low-paid employees only get work in the summer months.
Examples of people visiting less cooler places doesn’t necessarily have to mean that Brits or Germans might start holidaying on Danish beaches; instead it might mean that Northern France or Spain – both reasonably and reliably warm in the summer – might start to prove much more popular.
Such destinations should already be thinking about pushing their marketing hard when heatwaves are occurring, perhaps even directly targeting Germans and Brits who are currently on holiday in boiling spots with "if only you’d come here you’d be cool as a cucumber" ads.
But given how many holiday makers around the world are addicted to visiting the same beaches every year, what we are more likely to see more of is less people visiting in the hotter months and more starting to visit out of the typical season.
For this to happen as a society we might need to rethink the calendar routines we’ve all practiced for generations. For example, will schools shift their summer holidays to other periods? They could even stagger them across schools. Could companies adopt two quiet periods, say in May and in October, when staff can more easily take holidays? Governments could tip the balance by creating new bank holidays or shifting old ones.
Equally though the tourism industry will have to adopt its offering and pricing. Serving the same amount of people over a much longer period, but maintaining the same amount of resources, will be less profitable and require price increases. This requires a change in models and even mindset, but those that do so quickly will gain a first-mover advantage.
It might also mean a shift – during the hotter months – to people doing more in the evenings, meaning bars and restaurants need to stay open later too. In some regions that means governments will need to change licensing laws. Perhaps the hotter a day, the longer you can stay open? Equally many might begin to expect more covered public spaces, perhaps shields that move with and adjust to sun intensity.
From a tech perspective this introduces many needs and therefore opportunities too. Weather forecast and advice tools will play a bigger role in holiday planning, who knows even staff planning. Perhaps search filters on travel websites will have an “average temperature” button? From a revenue management perspective, years of “peak season” prices will need rethinking for sure, linking prices instead to temperatures.
Sadly Olivia Newton John isn’t around to confirm if her Sandy character was a proto-climate change activist. But one thing is for sure for our industry: The sooner we prepare for travel gurus telling us that “winter breaks are the new summer holiday,” the better.
About the author...
is director of sales and marketing at travel intelligence provider Mabrian