Heat, wildfires put southern Europe's tourism at risk

Tourists at a seaside hotel on the Greek island of Rhodes snatched up pails of pool water and damp towels as flames approached, rushing to help staffers and locals extinguish one of the wildfires threatening Mediterranean locales during recent heat waves.

The next morning, some unsettled guests cut their holiday short — but most stayed on as the resort wasn't damaged in the small brush fire outside its grounds.

 After thousands of people were evacuated during the height of travel season, Rhodes is weighing how the crisis will affect its vital tourism sector, which fuels most of its economy and some 20 percent of Greece's.

It's the same for other Mediterranean destinations, like Italy and Spain, where the tourism sector also is being hit by heat waves and wildfires.

Greece, Italy, Algeria and Tunisia combined lost more than 1,350 square kilometers to blazes that affected 120,000 people in late July.

Fires have chased away tourists in hard-hit parts of Greece and Italy.

Rhodes saw mass cancellations of flights and the trend is similar in Sicily, said Olivier Ponti, vice president of insights at ForwardKeys.

While travel to Greece overall has not been hit too hard, Italy isn't as lucky. Wildfires "have caused a slowdown in bookings for many Italian destinations, even places not close to the fires," he said, noting a drop for Rome in the last week of July.

Even without the flames, summer heat intensified by climate change can be a turnoff for travelers.

Hoteliers are worried in southeastern Spain's coastal resort city of Benidorm, a longtime favorite for British and Scandinavian tourists.

"If heat waves were to be repeated every summer, the impact on our economy would be significant," said Antonio...

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