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News & Advice

Kate Simon: Freezing snow, blazing sun – the British holidays of the future

Scotland never had it so good – at least last week. As the whole country shivered in Arctic conditions, news came in of skiers forming long queues in the Highlands' resort of Aviemore, keen to benefit from the latest eight inches of snowfall.

As our ski expert, Patrick Thorne, wrote in a recent Snow Report column (IoS, 20 December 2009), Scottish slopes once enjoyed annual visitor numbers topping 650,000, but these have dipped to 150,000 since the 1970s. Perhaps Scotland's luck is about to change, and if so, as Patrick says, the Scots better spend some money fast on upgrading their facilities.

It seems UK ski resorts may not be the only tourist spots affected by climate change and cyclical weather. Freezing winters, boiling hot summers, and wet springs and autumns could become a regular feature of the 21st century.

According to the 2009 UK Climate Projections, from the UK Climate Impact Programme, which considers the effect of different levels of carbon emissions on weather patterns, the threat of summer droughts, winter floods and storm surges is real. It predicts that by 2040 temperatures in southern Britain are likely to rise by an average of around C and could escalate to 8C if carbon emissions aren't controlled.

That has many serious ramifications. But one consideration is how it could permanently alter the face of Britain's domestic tourism scene.

Tourism 2023 – a project launched last year by the sustainability think tank Forum for the Future and supported by Defra and major travel industry bodies and companies – considers climate to be one of the major factors that will influence our travelling choices and habits.

Among its "what-if" scenarios is a Britain experiencing a "carbon clampdown" aided by milder winters and hotter, drier summers. "High levels of government investment in local resorts means that many people find their holiday needs can be met closer to home," it says, adding the prospect of "international celebrities snapped sunning themselves on the beaches in Norfolk".

It's enough to make the imagination run wild: Mediterranean-style resorts on Cornwall's Hayle Sands; Bridport – the new Benidorm; Disneyland Barry Island?

Sounds bonkers, yet even now we're seeing signs of the climate-sensitive nature of British tourism – Whitley Bay on the north-east coast says it will be opening a beach hut "resort" this Easter. And Bournemouth has constructed the first artificial surf reef in Europe to extend its watersports season.

The CEO of VisitEngland, James Berresford, remains sanguine about England's ability to rise to the challenge. "England has always been an all-weather destination and will continue to develop new and exciting tourism offers to adapt to changing weather patterns," he says.

Of course, how we get to all these exciting new UK destinations efficiently is another question – at the moment you can reach the Alps quicker than Scotland's slopes from some parts of the country due to better transport links. That's down to government to sort out. But if the way it handled this month's deep freeze is anything to go by...

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