The Effects of the Climate Crisis on Greece’s Tourism

How will the expected dramatic changes in climate conditions affect the country’s tourist destinations?

How is it estimated that climate change will affect tourist destinations? What institutional interventions need to be made to strengthen the presence of tourist pleasure boats and the development of tourist port facilities?

DiaNEOsis (a non-profit think-tank based in Athens, Greece) highlights these issues while also presenting specific policy proposals for the best development planning of the tourism industry.

1. Impact of climate change and resulting risks for tourism

Tourism is a growing and dynamic branch of the Greek economy, as it offers direct and indirect development opportunities in a wide range of sectors and in a large number of destinations. The development of tourism is based on critical factors such as our rich natural and cultural heritage, the extensive coastlines, the large number of islands, the Greek hospitality and way of life, the modern tourist infrastructure and services but also the climate which, as in rest of the Mediterranean, attracts a significant number of tourists worldwide.

Of particular interest regarding the further development of tourism in the country is the assessment of the expected effects of climate change on tourist destinations and their competitiveness. It is also known that the prevailing climatic conditions affect the types of tourism that are directly dependent on external activities, such as our basic product “sun-sea” and culture. In this context, it is of particular interest whether and how the expected changes will affect our tourist destinations.

From a first approach, the prevailing climatic conditions are a critical factor for the sustainability of tourist areas, with what this entails for the spatial impact of tourism, the quality of the offered tourist product and, by extension, the demand for it. In particular, the main impacts on tourist areas are the rise of the sea level, the increase in temperature and the decrease in precipitation (especially during the summer season) but also the extreme weather phenomena. At the same time, the indirect effects are also of interest, such as the effect on critical natural resources (e.g. water), the alteration of the landscape and the disruption of biodiversity that affect the development prospects of tourism. In this context, the geographical location and the specific characteristics of the site often have a decisive role, as its exposure and sensitivity to the effects of climate change can vary significantly.

It should be noted that the effects of climate change on tourism will be both positive and negative. For example, it is estimated that during the summer tourist season, on which tourism in our country is mostly based, the increase in temperature and/or the more frequent occurrence of heat waves will significantly degrade the quality of the tourist product. Nevertheless, a positive effect that can occur in some areas is the lengthening of the tourist season, which will certainly affect in turn the supply of tourism, but also the demand.


2. Climatic indicators affecting the tourism sector

In a study carried out under the coordination of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens for diaNEOsis, climate indicators (Table 1) that are directly related to the tourism sector are examined and areas of different levels of tourism development are highlighted, in which the pressures are greater.

Average climatic conditions


Temperature is an important factor both for the environment and the orderly functioning of ecosystems, as well as for human activities. As far as the tourism sector is concerned, the temperature of the summer months is considered as one of the critical factors. In the present study, the temperature change of the summer months is examined for the three projected scenarios (RCP 2.6, 4.5 and 8.5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for time horizons of 20 years and 40 years. In the optimistic scenario (RCP 2.6), the increase is relatively limited, but the significant temperature increase estimated under the intermediate scenario (RCP 4.5) (see Figure below) and the unfavorable (RCP 8.5) scenario for summer months is sure to increase the thermal discomfort of visitors and the inability to complete some tourist activities, therefore the level of the tourist product.


In a first analysis, the changes in precipitation for the optimistic climate scenario are relatively limited and concern part of the Greek territory, but they are significant for the most unfavorable climate scenarios, with a decrease in precipitation throughout the territory.

Extreme weather conditions

Change in the number of hot days (Tmax > 30°C)

The change in the number of hot days directly affects summer tourism, although according to the selected climate scenarios they do not bring particularly unfavorable results for the entire territory. The areas that seem to be most affected are Halkidiki, the Argosaronic islands, Crete and large islands of the Dodecanese.

Change in cooling degree days

The cooling degree days are an indicator directly related to the energy consumption required for the air conditioning of buildings, in order to ensure the required thermal comfort conditions for tourists in the summer months. Based on the scenarios applied, the coasts of the Corinthian Gulf, the South Euboea, the Argosaronic, and the eastern coasts of the large islands of the Dodecanese show higher values. In the most unfavorable scenario, there is a trend towards an increase in prices on the eastern coasts of the whole territory and a corresponding increase, although smaller, on the western coasts and the Ionian Islands.

Change in the number of tropical nights

The number of tropical nights index records the number of nights in which the minimum air temperature is above 20 degrees Celsius. Therefore, it is a factor directly linked to the hot days index. Tropical nights are also associated with people’s thermal discomfort, especially during sleep. At first analysis, the western coasts of the country, the Ionian Islands, the Western Peloponnese and Central Macedonia are directly affected. In the worst scenario, in addition to these areas where the phenomenon intensifies, part of Crete, the coasts of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, as well as the coasts of South Euboea up to the interior of Evia and Eastern Mainland and a part of the Eastern Peloponnese are added.

Change in the number of heat events

Heatwave episodes are mainly characterized by very high temperatures, absence of winds and usually last for three consecutive days. During the episodes, thermal discomfort is characteristic, mainly during the day, and the difficulty in carrying out activities (visitors and workers in the tourism sector) in the external environment. Based on the above and combined with all the above indicators related to temperature and discomfort, the importance of examining the indicator and its relationship with tourism emerges.

The change is greater for the intermediate and unfavorable scenarios, while in the case of the most unfavorable scenario, no area is found that does not belong to the highest category of the index measurement scale.

3. Effects of climate change on coastal tourist areas.

In the context of the study, the above-mentioned indicators were examined, over a period of 20 years and 40 years for the three aforementioned scenarios, especially for the main tourism attraction destinations (outside of the urban centers) the coastal areas which anyway attract an overwhelming percentage of tourists in our country. Coastal tourist areas are divided into three categories based mainly on the type and intensity of tourist development (e.g. mass tourism, recognition and competitiveness of the tourist destination, concentration of accommodation and visitors, etc.) according to the approach of the distinction in Special Framework for Spatial Planning and Sustainable Development for Tourism (2013). The first category includes the highly developed areas, the second category includes the developed areas and the third the developing areas. Their geographic location is shown on Maps 2-4.

Areas of intense tourist development and climate change indicators

Based on the examination of the average situation as well as the climate indicators in relation to the 20-year and 40-year horizon scenarios (2026-2045 and 2046-2065) it follows that:

  1. Temperature changes during the summer period gradually increase for the time horizons under study and show the largest values exceeding 2.5 °C for almost all areas for the adverse scenario in the time period 2046-2065.
  2. The changes in precipitation are important for the intermediate scenario and particularly burdensome for the adverse scenario as they are related to a decrease of more than 20% for the period 2046-2065.
  3. The patterns of changes in cooling degree days follow those of temperature and show a gradual increase.
  4. The changes for warm days and tropical nights show a similar evolution where their number increases per scenario and for longer time horizons of estimation for the whole control areas.
  5. Changes in the number of heat events show an increase in all control areas and for all scenarios with particularly high values for some tourist areas.

Developed tourist areas and climate change indicators

Regarding the developed tourist areas, in relation to the three scenarios in a 20-year and 40-year horizon, the main results are summarized as follows:

  1. The temperature change during the summer period shows the largest values for mountainous areas in Thessaly and Western Peloponnese, where it exceeds 3 °C for the adverse scenario in the period 2046-2065.
  2. Precipitation shows a mixed behavior per scenario with reductions in intermediate and adverse scenarios and greater changes in some areas in Central Thessaly and Crete.
  3. The changes of tropical nights show high values in areas of Western Greece, while the corresponding changes of warm days show the highest values in the eastern island country and Crete.
  4. Higher values of the cooling degree days are found in some areas in the Dodecanese, Cyclades and Argolis, as well as in areas of Attica (Saronic).
  5. The number of heatwave episodes is increasing significantly in areas of Crete.

Regarding the developing coastal tourist areas, the results are as follows:

  1. Temperature changes during the summer period for the adverse scenario in the period 2046-2065 exceed 2.5 °C for more than 50% of the areas examined.
  2. Precipitation shows a mixed behavior in agreement with the analysis for the whole of Greece with greater reductions in areas of Crete.
  3. The changes for warm days show the highest values in islands of the Central Aegean Sea and tropical nights for areas in the Northern Ionian Sea.
  4. The increase in cooling degree days, as a result of the increase in average temperature, is observed in all regions and for all concentration scenarios.
  5. The number of heatwave episodes shows the greatest increases for regions of Crete and Thessaly.

4. Proposals for actions to adapt tourism to climate change

The choice of adaptation measures to climate change presupposes an understanding of the relationship between tourism and the effects on the special characteristics and the dynamic development of each tourist area of the country. Of particular interest is the potential accumulation of impacts over time, during the various phases of the scenarios under consideration. Key factors for considering the appropriate measures are the degree to which each region is affected by the effects of climate change overall and secondarily based on the category it belongs to, as presented in the present study (areas of intensive tourism development, developed areas, developing areas).

The general measures to adapt tourism to climate change are organized in 6 main axes of action:

The most specific directions-proposals based on the analysis of the particularities of the regions are:

For the areas of intense tourist development

The destination regions most affected by the effects of climate change as a whole are Crete, Rhodes, South Halkidiki and Zakynthos. As these destinations are already highly developed in terms of tourism, the management of tourist flows as well as the management of natural and cultural resources is required in principle in order to limit the further concentration of tourist development. At the same time, efforts must be made to reconstruct, if possible, the productive function of the destinations and the existing building.

For tourist developed areas

The developed tourist areas that will be most affected by the influence of climate change are located mainly in North Crete, the Eastern Aegean, the Eastern Peloponnese, the Argosaronic region and Southern Halkidiki. These destinations mainly require management of natural and cultural resources (especially in relation to the vulnerability and risks of the area) but also control and limitation of the increased concentration of tourist development by restructuring the operation of the destinations and the existing building. The control of these areas is deemed immediately necessary in order for their development to adapt more to the demands of future climate conditions.

For tourism developing areas

The developing regions that are more susceptible to the effects of climate change are the wider area of South and Central Crete, South Halkidiki and the coasts of Thessaly (as well as the holiday areas of Attica).

The tourism development of these areas requires the controlled management of natural and cultural resources based on spatial plans and programs to support modern initiatives and investments.

5. Σύνοψη-Συμπεράσματα

Οι απειλές, οι κίνδυνοι και οι επιπτώσεις της κλιματικής αλλαγής στον τουρισμό στην Ελλάδα μας παρουσιάζουν μια σύνθετη εικόνα με σημαντικές διαφοροποιήσεις από περιοχή σε περιοχή ως απόρροια της γεωγραφικής διάσπασης και διαφοροποίησης του χώρου, αλλά και της διαφοροποίησης των τουριστικών περιοχών. Οι επιπτώσεις αφορούν τον τουρισμό όχι μόνο ως προς τις παρεχόμενες εξυπηρετήσεις και σχετικές υποδομές αλλά και ως προς τα βασικά τουριστικά θέλγητρα: τη φύση και τον πολιτισμό. Σε κάποιες περιοχές η άνοδος της θερμοκρασίας και συνεπαγόμενες επιπτώσεις στην άνεση διαβίωσης, στη λειτουργία και ελκυστικότητα ως προς τον τουρισμό μπορεί να είναι επιβαρυντική και σε άλλες υποστηρικτική. Αυτό δεν ισχύει μόνο για τις παράκτιες περιοχές αλλά και για τις ορεινές, όχι μόνο για τους προορισμούς “ήλιου-θάλασσας” αλλά και για τους χειμερινούς. Για παράδειγμα, ορισμένοι προορισμοί με χιονοδρομικά κέντρα στο νότιο μέρος της χώρας μπορεί να χάσουν το πλεονέκτημα αυτό εφόσον μειωθεί η περίοδος χιονοπτώσεων. Όμως θα μπορούσαν να προσελκύσουν άλλου είδους τουρισμό, όπως οικοτουρισμό, φυσιολατρία, κ.ά. Αντίστοιχα, η αναμενόμενη άνοδος της στάθμης της θάλασσας παρουσιάζει επίσης ενδιαφέρον ειδικής αντιμετώπισης για κάποιες τουριστικές περιοχές, επιπλέον των θεμάτων ανόδου της θερμοκρασίας, καθώς θα απειλήσει βασικά τουριστικά θέλγητρα όπως οι αμμουδιές, αλλά ενδέχεται και να δημιουργήσει, αν και σε περιορισμένο βαθμό, στοιχεία έλξης π.χ. στο δέλτα ποταμών ή σε λιμνοθάλασσες. Επομένως τα θέματα προσαρμογής στην κλιματική αλλαγή από πλευράς τουρισμού φέρνουν στο προσκήνιο και τις δυνατότητες ανάπτυξης και των ειδικών μορφών τουρισμού (π.χ. οικοτουρισμός, αγροτουρισμός, κλπ.) διευρύνοντας τις δυνατότητες αλλά και τις ευκαιρίες διάχυσης της ανάπτυξης του τουρισμού και σε άλλες περιοχές.

Όλα αυτά επισημαίνουν την ανάγκη εστίασης στα ειδικά προβλήματα και εξειδίκευσης του τρόπου αντιμετώπισης της προσαρμογής στην κλιματική αλλαγή με βάση τα χαρακτηριστικά του τόπου. Ο έντονος προσανατολισμός ορισμένων περιοχών στον τουρισμό επιβάλλει άμεσα την έγκαιρη επισήμανση, ενημέρωση-ευαισθητοποίηση και κινητοποίηση για την αντιμετώπιση-πρόληψη και προσαρμογή.

Το κύριο διακύβευμα είναι η “έξυπνη προσαρμογή”, δηλαδή η αναζήτηση και υλοποίηση των κατάλληλων δράσεων, δηλαδή των προσαρμοσμένων στις ιδιαιτερότητες του κάθε προορισμού (βασικά θέλγητρα, ένταση και είδος τουριστικής ανάπτυξης, αναμενόμενες επιπτώσεις από την κλιματική αλλαγή, κλπ.).