Climate change is already impacting travel bookings in Europe, says agent

Travellers are booking shorter, cheaper trips but winter bookings are still strong with UK airlines flying at capacity

Climate change is driving a change in travel bookings as more holidaymakers seek out cooler destinations and countries in northern Europe, according to the head of one of the region’s largest travel agents.

Dana Dunne, chief executive of eDreams Odigeo, said his business had seen changing travel patterns following a scorching summer last year, when extreme heat forced the closure of some tourist attractions in Greece and led to wildfires ripping through some southern European holiday hotspots.

While the majority of travellers still book classic summer destinations in the Mediterranean, Dunne said climate change was “having an impact” on bookings, with some customers turning to typically overlooked destinations.

“We see a shift, with those [cooler] places seeing very material increases during the hottest part of the year,” he said.

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Cooler parts of northern Spain had sharp rises in bookings during the hottest weeks of the year, said Mr Dunne, with bookings to Bilbao rising 120 per cent year on year, La Coruña up 79 per cent, and a 65 per cent rise to Oviedo.

Cooler countries including Sweden, Norway and Denmark have also had more bookings.

The head of tour operator Tui last year forecast a rise in bookings to northern European countries, and said the typical summer season had lengthened in the Mediterranean.

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Travel companies do not yet see the changing travel patterns as a threat to businesses around the Mediterranean, and Mr Dunne said that it was too early to call permanent the redrawing of travel patterns.

“2022 and 2023 were really hot, and yet still Spanish destinations showed up as being among the top destinations in Europe,” he said.

Dunne said holidaymakers in Europe were also booking shorter and cheaper trips as high inflation and a sluggish economy have started to eat into travel spending.

He said that people have continued to prioritise travel post-pandemic, but that the weak economy had led many to “trade down” rather than cancel trips.

Average spending per trip at eDreams was “significantly lower” than before the pandemic, said Mr Dunne, while short-haul trips have proved more resilient than more expensive long-haul options, with many travellers opting to stay in Europe.

“All these types of things are ways in which a family or household just tries to manage their expenditure under these macroeconomic uncertainties,” said Mr Dunne.

eDreams’ findings back up data from Advantage Travel Partnership, a network of independent travel agents, which said the average length of holidays sold last summer was 7.6 nights, down from 10 before the pandemic.

The rush to more budget-friendly holidays has come as the price of travel rose last year, with airlines and hotel operators reporting booming profits.

The industry also had a busy year end. In the UK, airlines expect to have flown capacity for more than 2.9 million people in December, up from 1.4 million last year, according to travel data firm OAG. EasyJet operated its busiest Christmas Day last year, with 542 flights across Europe.

Mr Dunne said early bookings showed demand for travel in 2024 was “fine”, but added that the next three months, typically the busiest period for summer holiday bookings, would be a “key indicator” of demand. Paris leads for 2024 worldwide flight bookings, in advance of the Paris Olympics. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024