Europe Europe Europe

Tourism: European scale

The numbers

In terms of tourist numbers, Europe is the world's most important tourist region. Tourism and everything that goes with it contributes for about 10% to the Gross Domestic Product of Europe as a whole (8). Most of the tourists come from other parts of Europe. Two major flows of tourists can be distinguished: in the summer from the north to the Mediterranean, and in the winter mainly to the Alps. About 85% of the ski areas in Europe are located in the Alps. 60 to 80 million people travel to the Alps every year; together they represent a turnover of EUR 50 billion (9). The summer tourist flow to the Mediterranean is much higher: at least 132 million people according to a conservative estimate for the summer of 2016 (10). If you also add the tourists who did travel to the European countries around the Mediterranean that year, but did not go to the beaches, you end up with more than 300 million, a third of the total number of people who traveled as tourists anywhere on the planet that year. 15% of employment in this part of Europe was due to tourism in 2015; Coastal visitors alone generated US$ 300 billion a year in revenue for the region in those years (11).

The carbon footprint of global tourism

Tourism contributes significantly to global gross domestic product, and is forecast to grow at an annual 4%, thus outpacing many other economic sectors. Between 2009 and 2013, tourism’s global carbon footprint has increased from 3.9 to 4.5 GtCO2e, four times more than previously estimated, accounting for about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Transport, shopping and food are significant contributors. The majority of this footprint is exerted by and in high-income countries. The rapid increase in tourism demand is effectively outstripping the decarbonization of tourism-related technology. Due to its high carbon intensity and continuing growth, tourism will probably constitute a growing part of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (6).


Analysis of data on international tourism movement between 178 countries for the period 1995 to 2010 showed the preferences of tourists for warmer destinations and closer counties (1). In addition, climate change projections for 2080 (A2, B1 and B2 emissions scenarios) showed that global warming is, on the whole, bad news for warm destinations in terms of loss of competitiveness. Hence, it shows how the search for a more comfortable climate is found to be one of the main motivations in determining international global tourism flows and, as such, climate change would imply a loss of attractiveness for traditional winter resorts and traditional warmer destinations around the world. However, on the other hand, it seems that global warming would increase attractiveness for high latitude countries (1).

The Mediterranean

The Mediterranean is both one of the most visited tourist destinations and one of the most sensitive areas to climate change worldwide. The impact of climate change on favourable conditions for beach-based tourism in the Mediterranean has been assessed for the end of the 21st century, based on a set of regional climate models (RCMs) run under the A1B emissions scenario (2).

Optimal climate conditions are projected to noticeably deteriorate in summer (June, July and August) across the Mediterranean, whereas only slightly improving in north-western Europe by 2075–2094 (compared with 1990–2009). On the other hand, a general enhancement of ideal climate potential is expected for the shoulder seasons (spring and autumn) in the former region. Thus, in the Mediterranean optimal climatic conditions may shift from the present peak demand season to spring and autumn. On an annual basis, optimal climate conditions are projected to increase in Portugal, the northernmost Spanish Atlantic area and the southernmost France, whereas a general deterioration is projected for the central and eastern Mediterranean (2).

The overall enhancement on summery tourist comfort in north-western European countries and the overall degradation in the Mediterranean could lead to an increase of domestic holidays in the former at the expense of travelling to the latter (2). In previous studies it was suggested that this redistribution across European countries may be equivalent to some 14 billion euros of expenditure (3).

Losses and gains of tourism revenues

Climatic conditions might become more favorable for tourism in the north of Europe and less so in the south. Climate model projections for 2100 under the so-called IPCC SRES A1B emission scenario (equaling moderate global warming) show that, under current economic conditions, tourism revenues may be up to 0.45 % of GDP per year lower in 2100 than current revenues in most notably the Mediterranean regions. Other areas, however (most notably Northern Europe), would gain from altered climatic conditions, up to 0.32 % of GDP on an annual basis (5). The potential losers are the southern European countries such as Bulgaria (−0.80 %) and Spain (−0.73 %) while the winners are Estonia (0.64 %), Latvia (0.63 %), Slovenia (0.62 %) and Slovakia (0.34 %). These results only refer to intra-EU tourism demand (being little over 70% of the total number of tourists): the share of non-EU tourists was not considered. Also the impact of adaptation measures, such as lowering accommodation prices in southern Europe to compensate for less favorable weather conditions in the summer season, was not considered (5).

The future pattern of winners and losers with respect to tourism follows from other studies as well. Greece and Cyprus, and to a lesser extent Spain, Portugal and Turkey, are often indicated as countries who's toursim industry will probably be adversely affected by summers becoming too hot this century (7). 


The Mediterranean

Climate change could offer new opportunities for a further extension of the beach-based activities in the Mediterranean towards late spring and early autumn. It may reduce off-season unemployment and problems such as summery peak demand in water supply or electric power. Besides, adaptation of all-year less weather-dependent types of tourism could alleviate some of the stresses during the current peak tourist demand (4). 


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

  1. Rosselló and Santana-Gallego (2014)
  2. Amengual et al. (2014)
  3. Amelung and Moreno (2012), in: Amengual et al. (2014)
  4. Amelung and Moreno (2012); Bafaluy et al. (2013), both in: Amengual et al. (2014)
  5. Barrios and Ibañez (2015)
  6. Lenzen et al. (2018)
  7. Grillakis et al. (2016)
  8. World Travel & Tourism Council (2017)
  9. Agrawala (2007)
  10. Tovar-Sánchez et al. (2019)
  11. Randone et al. (2017), in: IPCC (2022)