There’s a lot happening across the pond.
It’s a summer of heartache for Europe. Dreamy destinations are awash by happy campers taking in the sights and sceneries. But the continent has experienced one blow after another. The pandemic starved tourist-dependent businesses and crushed the economy, and just when the restrictions dropped, Russia invaded Ukraine, sending shockwaves through the world. Labor shortages have led to a very chaotic beginning to the summer travel season, and the Euro has weakened against the dollar, hitting its lowest since 2002. And now, wildfires and heatwaves across Europe are torching cities.
Wildfires and Heatwave
NASA reports that temperatures climbed to 104 degrees Fahrenheit in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa in June and July. Many records have been broken. Portugal’s Leiria town was scorching at 113 degrees Fahrenheit. Fueled by the heatwaves, wildfires have raged in France, Spain, Portugal, and Greece, as well as Tunisia and Morocco in Africa. In Italy, warming temperatures led to the collapse of a glacier earlier this month that killed several hikers.
The U.K. has announced its first-ever Red warning for extreme heat. The Met Office said, “This is the first time we have forecast 40°C [104 degrees Fahrenheit] in the U.K. The current record high temperature in the U.K. is 38.7°C [101.6 degrees Fahrenheit], which was reached at Cambridge Botanic Garden on 25 July in 2019.” People are warned to stay hydrated, avoid going outdoors, and check up on their friends, while schools are closing early and train schedules have changed.
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Scorching temperatures melted the runway of London Luton airport, causing flight disruptions, and doctors canceled surgeries as operating rooms overheated. Experts have predicted that hundreds will die due to this deadly heatwave, as the country is not prepared for it.
Across the Channel in France, 13,000 hectares have burnt in Gironde in Southwest France, where 16,000 people have been evacuated. The temperature is soaring everywhere in the country and breaking records—104 degrees Fahrenheit in the town of Cazaux and 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit in Paris.
In Spain, more than 70,000 hectares have been engulfed by flames. Portugal experienced 116.6 degrees Fahrenheit as it struggles to contain wildfires that have destroyed around 12,000-15,000 hectares. It is estimated that more than 1,100 people have died in Spain and Portugal due to heatwaves and thousands have been evacuated.
Experts have warned that heatwaves will become more frequent and intense due to climate change, and this is likely to become a norm in Europe. Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said, “Evidently, climate change kills. It kills people, kills our ecosystem, the biodiversity.”
London’s Heathrow is the latest airport to put a limit on the number of passengers passing through. Plagued by labor shortages that have delayed, canceled, and disrupted flights for months, the busiest airport in the U.K. has decided to cap daily departing passengers, bringing it down from the expected 104,000 to 100,000 per day until September 11. In 2019, up to 125,000 daily passengers were being served by the airport.
The airport has also urged airlines to stop selling tickets for summer, a move that has been criticized by the International Air Transport Association.
But Heathrow isn’t the only one. The U.K.’s second busiest airport, London’s Gatwick, limited the number of flights to 825 per day in July and 850 in August. Amsterdam’s Schiphol also announced in June its plan to cut the number of flights by 12%.
Airlines will have to adjust to the new cap, meaning there will be more flights cut from schedules, and fewer flights will increase ticket costs. Flagship carrier British Airways has trimmed thousands of flights from its summer schedule because it’s unable to match the demands in current conditions. Other airlines had to rearrange flights to comply with the new rule. Meanwhile, Emirates had a scathing reply for Heathrow, calling it unacceptable and unreasonable, and announced that it won’t go along with it. However, now the airport and the airline have come to an agreement.
Lufthansa, Ryanair, and EasyJet have also canceled hundreds of flights citing staff shortages.
If winding queues and last-minute cancelations were not enough, passengers flying in and out of Europe are also struggling to be reunited with their luggage. Heaps of orphaned bags are stuck at airports all across Europe, while passengers are using Airtags to track their belongings. The problem is so bad that Heathrow began stinking from stagnant, unclaimed bags. In fact, Delta operated a flight with no passengers to bring back 1,000 lost bags from Heathrow.
Icelandair found another solution to the problem of lack of airport staff: it is sending its own baggage handlers to Amsterdam to load and unload bags. Edinburgh airport had to unplug its customer support hotline after receiving abuse from frustrated customers who had lost their bags.
Crowds are descending on Europe, which is nothing new, but destinations are realizing that overtourism is impacting the daily lives and culture of the regions.
From January 16, 2023, tourists will have to pay up to €10 to enter Venice. The lagoon city has been complaining about overtourism for years, and now it’s ready to limit visitors with this new rule, the first in the world. Overnight guests, residents, children, homeowners, and people who are disabled are among those exempt from this tax. People staying in Venice pay a tourist tax that’s included in their hotel bill. In addition, the city has also banned large cruise ships from docking at its port.
Other destinations have also come up with their own plans to stop massive traffic hold-ups that inconvenience the locals. The Amalfi Coast has ordered restrictions on tourist cars on its road—odd number plates on odd dates and even number plates on even dates can drive during peak hours through September. Residents, buses, and taxis are exempted.
Barcelona is capping the size of tour groups to 15 people and increasing taxes on cruise ships. Meanwhile, Spain’s Playa de Palma is enforcing a dress code for bars and restaurants: no jerseys/swimwear allowed. Rowdy tourists and excessive tourism have also invited more changes, including bans on bar crawls and all-you-can-drink deals.
Tourist taxes and pre-booking are becoming increasingly common in destinations that are overrun by tourists, and more cities are going with similar routes to control the strain on their resources.
War on Ukraine
It has been 146 days since Russia invaded Ukraine (you can read updates here). Millions have fled their country, thousands have died, and hundreds of war crimes against civilians are being reported every day. Despite sanctions and businesses pulling out of the country, Russia continues to attack and take control of territory. Ukraine is fighting back, and NATO is sending billions of aid to the country, but there seems to be no end in sight. As it stands, the war could go on for years.
The devastation will be felt for a long time, and the world will experience aftershocks, too.
The European economy, already beaten by the pandemic, is expected to take more hits, as inflation rises and the energy crisis worsens. Food insecurity in African and Middle Eastern countries and surging gas and oil prices are causing more than just an economic slump—the consequences are devastating people below the poverty line.