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Tourism in numbers - Europe

Europe is the most important tourist region in the world. According to UNWTO, in 2006 nearly 55% of all international tourist arrivals (461 million) were on the “old continent”.Southern Europe and the Mediterranean region are the favourite holiday destinations in Europe. According to UNWTO, in 2006 about 165 million tourists visited these regions (7).

At present, the predominant summer tourist flows in Europe are from north to south, to the coastal zone. However, coastal and mountain tourism are the segments that are most vulnerable to climate change, and the Mediterranean region is the world's most popular holiday region: it attracts some 120 million visitors from northern Europe each year, the largest international flow of tourists on the globe, and their spending is in excess of EUR 100 billion (5).

Vulnerabilities – In general

There are four broad categories of climate change impacts that will affect tourism destinations, their competitiveness and sustainability (6):

  • Direct climatic impacts
  • Indirect environmental change impacts. Changes in water availability, biodiversity loss, reduced landscape aesthetic, altered agricultural production (e.g., wine tourism), increased natural hazards, coastal erosion and inundation, damage to infrastructure and the increasing incidence of vector-borne diseases will all impact tourism to varying degrees.
  • Impacts of mitigation policies on tourist mobility. Policies that seek to reduce GHG emissions will lead to an increase in transport costs and may foster environmental attitudes that lead tourists to change their travel patterns.
  • Indirect societal change impacts. Climate change is thought to pose a risk to future economic growth and to the political stability of some nations. Climate change is considered a national and international security risk that will steadily intensify, particularly under greater warming scenarios. Tourists, particularly international tourists, are averse to political instability and social unrest.

Vulnerabilities - Overview

Apart from the decline in winter sports in Scotland and the potential vulnerability due to variable or extreme weather, all areas of the UK expect climate change to boost tourism, with a longer tourist season and higher visitor numbers. A shift to a more outdoor-oriented lifestyle is also expected (1). In general, climate change may bring, if anything, positive effects for Great Britain (7).

West and Gawith (1) present an overview of expected climate change impacts on several activities for different regions of the United Kingdom, based on several regional scoping studies. The results fortourism, recreation, leisure and lifestyle are listed below.

A blank cell indicates that no specific issues were identified for the region besidesthose noted in the first row.Each region identified and discussed issues differently, so this table might not provide comprehensive coverage of all issues.

Region Positive impact on tourism Negative impact on tourism Uncertain impact on tourism majority of regions Increased tourism. Increase in outdoor leisure pursuits. New business opportunities More pressure on tourist attractions   South West Extended tourist season. Greater use of external environment around buildings   Changes to food and drink consumption patterns South East   Sport and recreational fishing suffer Increase in second or holiday home ownership. Change in character of parks London Out of town excursion destinations might benefit Heat in London could deter. Sport and recreational fishing suffer   East of England Managed realignment creating significant tourist attractions     East Midlands Lifestyles and health might benefit from a more outdoors culture     West Midlands More walking and cycling for work and leisure     Wales   Decreased autumn tourism Beach changes North West More outdoor activities resulting in positive commercial, social and health impacts Vulnerable to extreme weather   Yorkshire & Humber More all-weather pitches to play sport year round     North East       Scotland Increased feelgood factor associated with warmer climate Increased rainfall detrimental to tourism. Decline of winter sports industry   Northern Ireland   Increased cost of fuel and transport  

Vulnerabilities - Wales

Tourism is a major contributor to the economy of Wales, generating some £1.9 - 2.0 billion in direct visitor spending. This translates to 10% of the jobs in Wales (c.100,000 jobs supported directly and indirectly by tourism) and 7.5% of the GDP. The seaside in Wales retains its position as the leading visitor destination, claiming a consistent 60% of holiday nights (2).

Due to sea level rise the coastal resource is jeopardised by increased sediment transport and erosion, loss of sandy beaches, deterioration of dune/beach interface, loss of paths and loss of land. The predictions that the Welsh summer will become warmer suggest that the long stay, higher spending and discerning tourist will return. Increased tourism in dry summers will place a new demand on the supply of water.

Vulnerabilities - Scotland

Tourism is one of the most important industries in Scotland, employing 1 in 12 of the workforce (1 in 8 in the Highlands and Islands). In 1997, tourists spent nearly £2.7 billion and filled over 13 million bed-nights in Scotland. The increase in temperature throughout the year is likely to improve the attractiveness of Scotland as a destination for most tourist activities, with the exception of winter sports (3). Winter sports, particularly the ski industry which is economically marginal, are perhaps most at risk from winter warming (4). The current level of tourism in Scotland operates within the perceived weather conditions. Some in the industry argue that climate change will have little, if any, impact on tourism (3).

Benefits - UK

Climate change may have a net positive effect on the overall European potential for tourism: up to 59 million bed nights more or some 8% of the total of 777 million nights registered for 2005 in a study on 29 countries (8). Additional potential revenues could be in the order of 4–18 billion euros.

The changes are likely to be unequally spread across Europe, however. The year-round potential for tourism increases most in the northern parts of Europe, including the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia, and in Austria. In the southern countries, there is evidence for a net loss of potential, although improvements in the spring and autumn seasons are likely to offset a significant share of the deteriorations in summer. In particular Austria and the UK enjoy significant gains in relative terms, whereas Italy and Spain face the largest losses (8).

Adaptation strategies – In general

Climate change is slowly entering into decision-making of a range of tourism stakeholders (e.g., investors, insurance companies, tourism enterprises, governments, and tourists); studies that have examined the climate change risk appraisal of local tourism officials and operators have consistently found relatively low levels of concern and little evidence of long-term strategic planning in anticipation of future changes in climate (6).

There is also some evidence that local tourism operators may be overestimating their adaptive capacity (e.g., capacity to make snow under the warmest scenarios). The incorporation of adaptation to climate change into the collective minds of private and public sector tourism decision-makers (‘mainstreaming’) remains several steps away (6).

The capacity of the tourism sector to adapt to climate change is thought to be relatively high due to its dynamic nature and therefore there will be important opportunities for tourism to reduce the vulnerability of communities to climate change (6).


The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for the United Kingdom.

  1. West and Gawith (2005)
  2. Farrar and Vaze(2000)
  3. Kerr et al. (1999)
  4. Harrison et al. (2005)
  5. EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  6. UNWTO, UNEP and WHO (2008)
  7. Deutsche Bank Research (2008)
  8. Amelung and Moreno (2012)

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