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Europe’s summer heatwaves: Should you cancel your holiday when extreme weather hits?

Tourists with an umbrella walk in front of the Parthenon at the ancient Acropolis in central Athens, 12 June 2024.
Tourists with an umbrella walk in front of the Parthenon at the ancient Acropolis in central Athens, 12 June 2024. Copyright AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris
Copyright AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris
By Angela Symons
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Weather and insurance experts on what to expect in Europe this summer and what you can do if your trip is impacted by extreme weather.

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Athens authorities were forced to shut down the Acropolis this week as temperatures exceeded 40C in much of central and southern Greece.

It’s not the only European country experiencing unseasonably high heat so early in the summer, raising fears that last year’s weather extremes will be repeated.

Mediterranean tourist hotspots have been particularly hard hit, with temperatures along Türkiye’s coast soaring as high as 12C above seasonal norms and wildfires breaking out in the Paphos district of Cyprus.

Spain, too, has felt the effects of extreme weather swings, with heavy flooding forcing Palma Airport to ground flights and a yellow warning for rain put in place in Murcia.

It’s part of a wider trend, with global temperature records being broken consistently over the past 12 months and ‘weather whiplash’ bringing unprecedented droughts and flooding.

While experts warn that the primary driver is human-caused climate change, the El Niño weather phenomenon has contributed to higher temperatures over the past year. This is now entering a transitional phase that some hope could bring a little relief towards the end of summer - though the knock-on consequences on weather are hard to predict.

So what should you do if you have a holiday planned in southern Europe this summer?

Euronews Travel spoke to climate and insurance experts to find out what to expect and what you can do if your trip is impacted by extreme weather.

Does travel insurance cover trips impacted by extreme weather?

Travel insurance is designed to cover unforeseen events, such as emergency medical expenses, lost or stolen belongings and last-minute cancellations.

In some cases, you can be reimbursed if your trip is cancelled due to extreme weather - but certain conditions usually apply.

“In the case of cancelling a trip due to an extreme heatwave when no government advisory is in place, travel insurance may not provide coverage for trip cancellations,” explains Jonathan Frankham, general manager of travel insurance provider World Nomads Europe.

If your doctor has advised against travel due to concerns about the weather’s impact on your health, you may be entitled to compensation. Such claims will be “assessed on a case-by case basis”, explains Frankham.

Check your policy for a list of covered reasons for trip cancellation, as these vary by provider. Some may provide add-ons for weather-related circumstances.

If your trip is cancelled by your airline or travel provider due to weather related events, you will likely be offered compensation and a replacement trip or refund.

In rare cases like the Rhodes wildfires that affected 25,000 tourists in Greece last summer, compensation has been offered by local governments.

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How else can travel insurance help in a heatwave?

Whether or not your insurance covers heatwave-related cancellations, it can still be invaluable when temperatures spike.

The health risks of heat range from exhaustion and heatstroke to life threatening heart attacks and strokes. One study suggested that high temperatures in 2022 may have been responsible for 70,000 excess deaths in Europe.

Travel insurance can get you the medical help needed if you face any of these issues. Some policies will also compensate for health-related disruptions.

“If a traveller’s health is adversely affected by the heatwave, and they are unable to continue with their planned itinerary, travel insurance with trip interruption coverage can help reimburse the costs of unused travel arrangements and additional expenses incurred due to the interruption,” explains Frankham.

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A tourist uses a hand fan to cool down another one sitting on a bench in front of the Parthenon at the ancient Acropolis, in Athens, 12 June 2024.
A tourist uses a hand fan to cool down another one sitting on a bench in front of the Parthenon at the ancient Acropolis, in Athens, 12 June 2024. AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris

Should you cancel your trip due to a heatwave?

Unless there is a government advisory against travel to your chosen holiday destination, or your doctor has advised against you travelling, you are unlikely to receive compensation from your travel insurance for cancelling your trip.

How you can stay safe if you’re on holiday during a heatwave

If you’re on holiday in a heatwave-affected area it’s important to stay informed about local weather conditions and follow safety guidelines issued by authorities.

This may include precautionary measures like carrying extra drinking water or avoiding high-energy outdoor activities in the middle of the day.

Older travellers and those with certain health conditions should be especially careful not to exert themselves when temperatures are high. If your itinerary involves outdoor adventure, it might be worth asking your travel provider if you can change your plans or dates.

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If you’re yet to book your summer getaway, consider choosing a destination less affected by the heat - such as in northern Europe - or delay your trip until early autumn.

How could extreme weather impact travel insurance policies in future?

As summers in Europe continue to smash heat records, there’s no sign of the trend slowing.

“With a pretty good degree of certainty, you can say that we are probably going to see another record breaking year,” says Tamsin Green, a meteorologist from forecasting service Weather and Radar. “Because despite how the forecasts might be shaping up, the trends of the rising global temperatures are undeniable.”

Looking ahead, this could shape the future of travel insurance policies.

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“Travel insurance companies are keeping a close eye on the frequency of extreme weather events, and if they grow in number the industry will have to react in a similar way to how the industry responded during the pandemic,” says Frankham. 

“When borders opened, travel insurance had to adapt quickly to open up new coverage for COVID-19 and, if extreme heat events continue to become more frequent, there may be a need for products to evolve again to meet customers’ needs.”

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