Tourism depends strongly on the weather and climate, although other factors also play a role in the attractiveness of a destination. It is expected that climate change will have rather positive effects on the Belgian tourism sector. The tourism season may become longer, with an increase in the number of pleasant and therefore attractive days for tourists. In southern Europe, the summer period in particular may become unbearably hot, making regions to the north a more attractive summer holiday destination for tourists. The summer peak in southern Europe will probably decrease and the best periods for holidays could move to spring and autumn. The growth in the number of overnight stays in Flanders due to climate change is expected to fluctuate between +2% and +16%. By comparison, depending on the scenario, this is likely to be between -1% and -4% in southern Europe. An increase in the number of overnight stays will obviously result in greater tourist spending.
However, climate change will also have a number of negative consequences, such as more damage to infrastructure or accommodation due to the increasing intensity of rainfall, heatwaves, … This could have very negative consequences, particularly in case of damage to large tourist attractions or unique cultural heritage sites. Tourism entrepreneurs will possibly also have to invest more in cooling systems and use more water, which may have an effect on the profitability of their businesses. It seems appropriate to provide for a sufficiently varied range of tourism and recreational activities. Out of all destinations, the coast will feel the greatest impact of climate change. The warmer climate will attract more tourists. However, these additional tourists will further increase the mobility problem that already exists on peak days. The increase in sea level will also reduce beach areas and additional beach fills will be necessary to ensure protection (see sector ‘Coast‘).
City tourism will be less influenced by climate change than at the coast as in other regions. Holidays in these regions mainly involve activities such as cycling and walking. Although these are weather-sensitive activities, they mainly involve the domestic market and so competitive relationships will be less affected by climate change. Spring and autumn remain the best periods for this type of holiday. In southern Belgium, tourism offer is more linked to rural and forest environment and also to rivers. In the summer, dryer weather could have an adverse impact on nautical activities such as kayaking (and to a lesser extent diving) if the water level is too low in the rivers. During softer and wetter winters, the snow level is foreseen to evolve.
Climate change creates specific opportunities for the tourism sector. It is important to respond to the opportunities offered by the intervention of other policy areas (urban renewal, renovation of a dyke, etc.). The government must cooperate in this so that these areas are organised in such a way that tourists will want to visit them. By giving Tourism Flanders (“Toerisme Vlaanderen”) the opportunity to contribute towards major projects, it became involved in the layout of Sigma areas and sits on water basin management boards in order to be able to respond to opportunities as they arise. The protection of tourism infrastructure (such as the coast or cultural heritage) in turn forms part of the broader framework of coastal defences or public safety. A cooperation agreement has been concluded between Tourism Flanders and the Maritime Services and Coast Agency (MDK), which deals, among other things, with the organisation of coastal defence projects. It has also been agreed that Tourism Flanders will take MDK’s coastal weather forecast into account in promoting the coast. Regarding infrastructure and housing, as climate change will have impacts on the Belgian touristic offer, it is important to anticipate and organise a reflection to maximize the future opportunities. That was one of the objectives of a study conducted in Wallonia: “Impact de la modification climatique à 30 ans sur le tourisme en Wallonie” (Impact of climate change in thirty years on tourism in Wallonia). This study was launched in January 2012 for a period of 3 years to find answers to the questions “How will climate change modify the spatial distribution and frequentation of recreational areas?”, “What is the impact of climate change (and mitigation policy) on the European touristic flows to and from Wallonia?”.