Climate Impacts: Field of Action Tourism

Beach chairs at the Baltic SeaClick to enlarge
Climate change affects tourism which depends on weather and climate.
Source: quiloo/

As an economic sector and growth industry, tourism is dependent on the weather on both the supply and demand side, as a large number of tourism activities take place outdoors. Accordingly, tourism is also influenced by climatic changes. These affect tourism offers and regions in very different ways.

Table of Contents


Impact of climate change on winter tourism

Climate scenarios for various destinations predict an increase in winter temperatures of 1.8°C by 2050 compared to 1990. In addition, precipitation at medium altitudes will fall more frequently in the form of rain instead of snow. As a result, the amount of snowfall will decrease, which in turn will affect snow cover and the number of snow days. This ultimately causes a decrease in natural snow guarantee, which is an important prerequisite for the economic success of a winter tourism holiday region.

Ski tourism (e.g. alpine skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing) is the winter tourism activity most affected by climate change. The loss of the natural snow guarantee can be accompanied by significant restrictions in the skiing offer and in some cases by its disappearance. At low altitudes, climate change causes a later start and earlier end of the season and thus leads to a shorter season overall. This can lead to economic losses. Cross-country skiing is also subject to the risk of little or no snowfall in individual years, which may make the activity impossible in the long term.

By the end of the 21st century, it is expected that alpine winter sports will no longer be possible in the low mountain ranges. Presumably, there will still be snow-sure ski resorts at the end of the 21st century if they are equipped with appropriate snow-making facilities. However, this is associated with a significantly higher snowmaking effort. For other activities (e. g. winter walks, hikes), on the other hand, snow is merely a condition that contributes to the attractiveness of a holiday destination. A reduction in the natural snow guarantee therefore does not directly lead to a restriction of these offers. In coastal regions, the presence of a "winter atmosphere" with low temperatures is beneficial to tourism.

Indicators from the DAS monitoring: Snow cover for winter sports | Bed nights in ski resorts


Impacts on summer tourism

Summer tourism is mainly influenced by the climate factors air temperature, water temperature, sunshine duration and precipitation. Based on existing scenarios, rising temperatures, lower precipitation and a lengthening of the summer season generally improve the climatic conditions for summer tourism. The individual types of summer tourism differ in their climatic demands and the degree of dependency. In addition, the effects depend strongly on the geographical location of the holiday region.

Bathing and beach tourism is likely to benefit from rising air temperatures, longer sunshine duration, lower summer precipitation, an extension of the summer period and an increase in surface water temperatures. A negative effect could be an accompanying deterioration in the water quality of bathing waters (e.g. due to "algae blooms"). Longer-term bathing bans would harm bathing and beach tourism. Risks also arise from an increase in heat days, which can lead to heat stress among vulnerable groups of people (e. g. older people, small children). Longer dry periods can affect the water level in bathing areas and thus restrict bathing opportunities. The intensification of tourist use can also lead to increased pressure on sensitive coastal ecosystems.

The activities of hiking, nordic walking and strolling are practised by many recreation-seekers during their summer holidays. Throughout the year, the climatic conditions for these activities will improve overall. Especially the spring and autumn seasons will become more attractive. The increase in sunshine duration is primarily responsible for this. Due to the pleasant climate in the mountains, an increase in mountain and alpine tourism (e. g. mountain hiking, climbing, high mountain tours) is expected. The guest and accommodation establishments will benefit from this. Impairments may occur during extended hikes due to heavy thunderstorms. The increase in natural hazards such as avalanches, rockfalls and landslides, caused by heavy precipitation and the thawing of permafrost at higher altitudes, poses a threat to mountain and high-mountain hiking and climbing. In addition, this can damage hiking trails, paths, mountain huts and cable car and lift facilities.

Many of the protected landscape areas in Germany (e. g. national parks, biosphere reserves, nature reserves and landscape conservation areas) are of great importance for tourism and offer special nature experience programmes (e. g. guided tours, nature trails). With regard to climate change, it is expected that this protected area tourism will also find improved framework conditions due to the increase in temperature and an extended season, which will favour the stay in nature. Negative effects are expected here, among other things, through the loss of biodiversity as well as impairments to the experience of nature through weather extremes.

Bike tourism (e. g. bicycling, mountain biking) is one of the most popular types of holiday in summer, along with bathing and hiking tourism. Here, too, an extension of the season has a fundamentally positive effect. The spring and autumn seasons in particular become more attractive. Bike tourists can be affected by heavy rainfall events and longer periods of heat. For example, hot days can limit the usual distances cycled per day and lead to health problems. In the case of mountain biking, heavy rainfall also poses the risk of landslides and falling rocks.

For water sports activities (e. g. canoeing, white water rafting and sailing), the influence of climate change on the water bodies and especially the water depth is of particular relevance. Since all rivers and lakes are only navigated when water levels are suitable, a low water level due to a decrease in summer precipitation endangers the sporting activity as a whole. In shallow waters, the risk of grounding or sediment resuspension also increases, which can lead to increased ecological impacts.

With regard to the effects of climate change on golf tourism, it is assumed that climate change will probably extend the golf season overall. However, depending on the region, significant problems are expected due to drought stress, which may cause significant damage to turf vegetation. The water demand of the lawns is correspondingly high in hot summer periods.

Indicators from the DAS monitoring: Coastal bathing temperatures, bed nights in coastal tourist areas


Impacts on health tourism

Health tourism is travel that focuses on medical treatments and health services. The purpose of the stay is physical and psychological prevention or the restoration of health. The offers concentrate on health resorts, spas and fitness and wellness facilities. Their offers include preventive and rehabilitation cures, compact cures and follow-up rehabilitation measures, health and wellness holidays, recreation, sports and leisure. Health tourism in Germany is generally considered to have a high potential for the future, partly due to increased health awareness. The expected climatic changes can have both positive and negative effects on the many facets of health tourism. Health tourism could be strengthened by climate change, as the majority of offers are indoor offers and here the climate risks for people are significantly lower, especially compared to heat stress. On the other hand, wellness offers based on indoor and thermal pools may lose their attractiveness in summer due to rising temperatures, for example compared to other offered activities such as bathing, cycling or walking. At the same time, a spatial shift of demand to higher and thus cooler locations or a revival of the classic "summer freshness" is possible, a development from which the alpine wellness provider sector would benefit if attractive offers were provided that are tailored to the needs of "heat-stressed" city dwellers. In the case of outdoor health tourism activities, the increase in heat days or abrupt weather changes could lead to possible restrictions for tourists. In particular, older people with health problems, but also people who are active in sports, may be at risk during hot periods in the summer months or abrupt weather changes. Other climatic influences affecting health tourism are related to the water quality at sea beaches and inland waters, which must meet certain hygiene requirements. Furthermore, bioclimatic factors such as UV exposure or air hygiene can be influenced by climate change, for example through changes in radiation intensities and pollen flight times. The spread of allergens, such as various types of pollen that trigger or aggravate hay fever and/or asthma, could have a limiting effect on the supply of health tourism.

Indicators from the DAS monitoring: Heat stress in spas used for their healthy climate


Damage to tourism infrastructures and business interruptions

Extreme weather events such as heavy rain, storms, storm surges, high and low water can lead to damage to tourism infrastructures (e. g. hiking and cycling trails, roads, water and winter sports infrastructures) and to interruptions in the operation of tourism facilities (e.g. accommodation establishments, inns). This affects all tourism regions and types in Germany. In coastal regions, strong storms and storm surges can lead to business interruptions as well as damage to port and beach infrastructures, beach closures and even the disappearance of entire beaches. Heavy rainfall events favour landslides on steep coasts, which can also lead to damage to tourist infrastructures. Interruptions of bathing activities can occur due to harmful microorganisms whose growth benefits from high water temperatures and nutrient levels. As a result of river floods, restrictions on operations and damage to cycle paths and hiking trails, hotels and restaurants as well as roads and railways can occur in flooded areas. In addition, low water can lead to selective restrictions on tourist navigation and water sports. Storm damage may result in warnings and closures of paths through forests and woodlands. In this context, forest fires should also be mentioned as risk factors. In mountain regions, avalanches and landslides may damage important infrastructure facilities for winter tourism such as ski lift masts, mountain railway stations, avalanche barriers and traffic routes. For small and medium-sized enterprises in particular, business interruptions and damage to infrastructures can threaten their existence in terms of running costs.


Impacts on the demand

If the climate and weather patterns in a tourism region change, this can lead to changes in the demand for certain tourism services in the long term and in the short term. Rapid reactions to long-term climatic changes are currently not to be expected. In the short term, higher weather variability and more frequent extreme weather events, which can be accompanied by business interruptions, tend to have a lowering effect on the demand. Depending on how weather patterns influence the decision to go on holiday, short to medium-term climatic changes can lead to a trip being postponed (temporal shift in demand), a trip being taken to another holiday region (spatial shift in demand) or an alternative tourist offer being taken up (segmental shift in demand). For example, a lack of natural snowfall with long-term decreasing periods of snow cover in certain regions can reduce the tourist demand for skiing. Ski tourists have the following options: Skiing only in seasonal periods with sufficient snow, choosing another ski area or choosing another activity instead of skiing.

On the German coasts and inland waters, the increase in air and water temperature, especially in the early and late summer months, could lead to an increase in demand for beach and bathing tourism in the short to medium term. Instead, sea level rise and the overlap of periods of high storm intensity with the holiday season may have a negative impact on tourism demand in the long term. In view of the projected increase in heat stress in summer, there tends to be an increase in demand for tourism offers in cooler regions during the hottest season, which could benefit not only the coastal regions but also the low mountain ranges. In connection with the loss of attractiveness of the classic bathing destinations in the Mediterranean region due to summer temperatures of partly over 40°C, there may be a shift of summer tourism from southern regions to Germany.

In view of the complexity of travel decisions, statements on future changes in demand due to climate change are associated with great uncertainty. In the interaction of all influencing factors (e.g. economic situation, travel motives, preferences of holidaymakers, changes in supply, mobility requirements and costs) on tourism demand, the influence of climate change will play a rather subordinate role in the coming years.

Indicators from the DAS monitoring: Seasonal bed nights in German tourist areas | Holiday destination preferences