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Greece Tourism at Risk in ‘New Normal’ of Wild Fires & Heat Waves

By Belal Awad · July 25, 2023

A 2007 Forest Fire in Greece  Wikimedia Commons

Greek Environment and Energy Minister Theodoros Skylakakis spoke about the ongoing challenges posed to the nation’s all-important tourism industry by recent wildfires and a prolonged heat wave. Skylakakis told Bloomberg News, “The fires today are a bit down. They are subsiding. We don’t know how the day or the days or the weeks coming will go forward.”

He added, “It does not affect massively our tourism industry. Up till now, and I think in the future, 
the evacuations were precautionary, and they went quite well, if you consider the extent of the problem. 
We had to evacuate both by sea and by land. In Rhodes, about 19,000 people. Now things are getting back to normal. But this is a new normal because climate crisis is here.” According to Skylakakis, the “new normal” requires a new approach by the government if it is to safeguard its lucrative tourism industry. “Now things are different,” he said. ”So, we 
have to manage our forests differently - take out much more of the plant mass that is flammable 
from the forest before a fire comes so that it does not turn into a mega-fire. Try to extinguish the 
fires very early so that they don’t create a problem. It’s a fight, but we’ll be much better each year that comes.”

Skylakakis explained, “The Mediterranean is a hotspot of climate crisis. We had two big heat waves, and the third one has not subsided yet. These heat waves are quite unprecedented. You have to go back 20, 30 years to find such heat waves.”

Asked about the long-term impact of climate change on tourism, Skylakakis pointed to the difficulty of predicting the way that the climate crisis will play out: “We know that climate change and the climate crisis is here. We know it’s coming. But we don’t know what will happen next year or the year after next.”

Skylakakis stressed the government’s commitment to preparedness. “We have increased hugely our air fleet to deal with fires - a 40% increase. We have more firefighters - better command and control. And we are now spending considerable amounts of money on prevention of fires within the forests,” he said.

As it addresses a tourism season full of challenges, Greek authorities will need to develop a reliable program for handling the exigencies of the new normal we call climate change.

Light Wave commentary

As the global community grapples with the consequences of climate change, Greece’s response serves as a potentially workable example of a proactive approach to the twin challenges of environmental and economic sustainability. Keep an eye out for how the Greek government navigates its way through this year’s tourism season - and how it applies those lessons to next years’s.