2024 Travel Risk Outlook Blog

Risk Factor Climate Change: Crisis Management during Summer Heat Waves

The travel summer of 2023 brought worrying negative headlines from the Mediterranean region: travel security analyst Thorsten Muth is focussing on climate change and its consequences.

Devastating forest fires in Greece and Tunisia, scorching heat on the Costa Brava. In Malta, blown power lines under the softened road surface caused power cuts. And even Germans, Brits and Dutch who stayed at home were sweating in record temperatures. In view of the tangible consequences of climate change, the tourism industry is faced with the task of providing millions of holiday-hungry travellers with relaxing holidays without losing sight of its many responsibilities.

Climate change poses challenges for tourism sector

According to NASA, June 2023 will go down in history as the hottest month since temperature records began, but the globe is not equally affected by global warming: As the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has found, Europe in particular is heating up – twice as fast as the rest of the world in the period from the 1980s to today. The change is particularly measurable on the surface of the sea: the rise in temperature in the eastern Mediterranean, the Baltic Sea and the Arctic is more than three times the global average. Meanwhile, on land, the continent has recorded the loss of around 880 cubic kilometres of glaciers (since 1997). The travel industry is also suffering along with the ecosystems: the potential dangers arising from increasingly long periods of heat are now affecting all areas of tourism. More frequent forest fires, seasonal water shortages, power outages and algae infestations can also cost both tour operators and destinations a lot of money. With no relief expected for 2024, the question arises: How has tourism fared this year in terms of travel risk management?

“Travel industry proves to be crisis-proof”

German tour operators had already shown great willingness to help the earthquake victims in Turkey at the beginning of 2023. When the forests in the south of Rhodes and on Corfu burned in the summer, this generated a similar response. The industry proved to be crisis-tested during and after the fires in Greece, says Carsten Fischer, Head of Relationship Leisure at the Hamburg-based security company A3M. He therefore gives the tourism industry a good report card: “In cooperation with Greek security forces, the tour operators and their local representatives evacuated all travellers from the affected holiday resorts, rebooked them and looked after them well as far as possible.” Up to 19,000 people were evacuated to safety by land, air and sea.

Greece’s Prime Minister Mitsotakis promised all travellers who had to interrupt their Rhodes holiday a free week’s holiday in autumn or spring. There was also an immediate response from the German tourism industry: the DER Touristik Foundation launched a fundraising campaign to support the aid workers and the local population as well as the reconstruction efforts on Rhodes, with the group doubling every donation received. Melanie Gerhardt, Head of Security and Crisis Management at DER Touristik, travelled to Greece especially to see the situation for herself. TUI CEO Sebastian Ebel also flew to Rhodes and spoke with holidaymakers and partners from the tourism industry as well as representatives of the local government and the crisis management team.

Solid crisis management is essential

Major tour operators lost several million euros as a result of the Rhodes fires alone. However, the customer takes centre stage, which is why it is essential for tour operators to be prepared for extreme situations. Regardless of whether it is a holiday or business trip, the be-all and end-all of good crisis management is professional process planning: “Everyone should know what to do in the event of a crisis,” explains Mirko Jacubowski, Director Operations at A3M. Access to up-to-date contact details, especially customers’ mobile phone numbers, is particularly important: “If the worst comes to the worst, we need to be able to contact them quickly and proactively,” says Jacubowski.

By utilising efficient early warning systems and crisis management tools such as A3M’s Global Monitoring, travel risk managers are able to provide their customers worldwide with fast and well-informed support. In the case of Rhodes, A3M provided its partners in the travel industry with continuous, up-to-date information on the fires and their impact on the ground. The fires could even be located with an accuracy of 100 metres using the satellite data provided. The analysts are not only focussing on the most popular destinations during the European summer travel season: In addition to fires in Portugal and extreme weather conditions in Croatia, the team also had their hands full with lesser-known hotspots, such as in Central Asia or in the far north of Canada. The fires on Maui (Hawaii), which made headlines for weeks with more than 115 deaths, were also closely followed.

Tackling causes instead of symptoms

The Global Monitoring programme, with which A3M accompanies the tourism industry through every acute disaster situation, has proven itself a thousand times over in the past. However, exemplary crisis management and a great willingness to donate alone are not enough: In view of the already noticeable effects of man-made climate change, the question of the tourism industry’s responsibility has long been raised. In the future, it will not be enough to deal with the symptoms of climate change; instead, the industry will be called upon to tackle the causes. But A3M will also be the most reliable partner the travel security industry has to offer on these new paths.


Thorsten Muth