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What will happen to Greece's economy as wildfires impact tourism?

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

In Rhodes, a beach hotspot in Greece, some 19,000 people have been evacuated in the face of wildfires that threaten to burn villages and tourist destinations. Many of those evacuated are on vacation and had to flee with what they had, leaving behind their travel documents. Tourists are sheltering in school buildings and conference centers. And one of the world's largest tour operators, TUI, announced it would cancel all of its flights to Rhodes through Friday. So what does this mean for Greece's economy, which relies heavily on tourism? For more on this, we turn to Doug Lansky, a global tourism expert based in Sweden. Good morning.

DOUG LANSKY: Good morning.

FADEL: So this mass evacuation, the wildfires, the heat, how is this going to impact tourism in Greece?

LANSKY: I think it already has impacted tourism widely, and not just in Greece, but across the southern part of Europe. It's just been so incredibly hot. So even if it's not on fire, it's been scorching hot. And people have been fleeing some of these areas already. And as you mentioned, it's an enormous part of the economy, and they're reeling. It's been - this is very difficult. It's a trying time for them. But it may not be as bad as it seems everywhere.

FADEL: OK, what do you mean by that? Because if - it's not going to get less hot next summer. All the scientists agree that this is something here to stay.

LANSKY: That's true. So I think one of the things that's happened post-COVID is a lot of people are flexing their time a little bit more. They're not going to the office five days a week. And they realize they can work from just about anywhere, which means that they may not need to go, as many people - need to go just during the summer months, the classic time to go traveling. And therefore, they might be able to take advantage of some of those times, those long weekends in the fall or a week here and there, when it's a better time to visit.

FADEL: And are you seeing that trends for tourism are down across Europe then?

LANSKY: Yeah, I think we're going to start to see that. This is going to take some time as this sort of - this trend sort of starts to roll out. But this is one of the biggest trends I've noticed after COVID, is that - this kind of new way of working and how that's going to start to affect travel. But there's still people with kids are - that's when they're out of school. And people are going to be able to travel to those spots only in the summer. So it's going to continue for some time. And it's one of those things you do it one year, you realize how crazy hot it is. And you kind of, like - you burn your fingers on the stove a little bit there. And you realize you're not going to do that anytime soon again.

FADEL: You start thinking, oh, my big vacation is now in January.

LANSKY: Exactly.

FADEL: But right now, it's really serious in Greece with these wildfires, tourists having to flee. What are you hearing from your sources in Rhodes and other parts of Greece, like Corfu?

LANSKY: Right. So first of all, let me just kind of paint a little bit of a picture. Rhodes looks like an arrowhead. And the tip of it is in the north - points northeast. And it's about 50 miles from one end to the other. And the two wildfires, one is called the Eloisa Wildfire (ph), the other is called the Lerma Wildfire (ph). They're sort of in the middle of the country. And the prevailing winds go straight north to south. So where most of the hotels are in the - sort of the northeast part of Rhodes, I called one of the hotels there looked like it would be right in the line of fire.

FADEL: Yeah.

LANSKY: And they told me, with the prevailing winds, it's just completely missing them.

FADEL: Oh.

LANSKY: They had clear, blue skies, there's no interruption in electricity, and everything is fine. I thought I actually might try to book there, so I checked on the prices. They've only dropped about 10%. And for most of the tourist areas on the island, everything is up and running, they said. So it's important that you call the hotels, check the conditions, and most of them are still very much open for business.

FADEL: Doug Lansky is a tourism expert based in Sweden. Thank you so much.

LANSKY: Thanks so much. Take care.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.