Portugal, Spain and Greece welcome energy migrants with promises of warm weather and low bills

Software developer Victor Varlamov logs in every morning to work on a sunny Spanish island off the coast of Africa. The prospect of high heating bills and a harsher winter since the war in Ukraine prompted him to leave his adopted home in Poland.

He is not alone in his pursuit of a warmer and cheaper way of life, as tourist offices in southern Europe have taken Cost of living crisis to promote the benefits of wintering abroad to those living in more northern countries.

Varmalov, 50, along with his wife and teenage daughter, moved from Poland’s Baltic coast to Gran Canaria in Spain’s Canary Islands two months ago and plans to stay for months to come.

“The economic crisis and especially the war situation pushed me here,” said Varmalov, who is Russian by birth.

Avoid record energy costs by moving abroad

The invasion of Ukraine by Russia in February drove some energy prices to record highs in August. These have eased but are likely to remain high and have led to painful levels of inflation.

Before leaving Gdansk, where he has lived since 2016, Varmalov calculated that he could save €250 on rent each month and pay €140 for all utilities and internet, instead of the €200 he was paying just for electricity in Poland.

What he saves now, he spends on eating out, he said, and he also enjoys walks on the beach during his lunch breaks.

“The reality is better than my expectations,” he said.

The regional government of the Canary Islands, where the average winter temperature is 20 degrees Celsius, launched a social media campaign in September to attract remote workerssuch as Varmalov, and pensioners from countries such as Great Britain, Germany and Sweden.

“It’s no secret that this will be a winter of great economic uncertainty in Europe, but in the Canary Islands, we want to change the situation,” said Yaiza Castilla, the regional head of tourism, describing the islands as an “economic haven”.

Other southern European countries also see the potential.

Greece’s tourism minister visited Austria and northern European countries such as Sweden in September to “turn this huge energy crisis affecting Europe into an opportunity”.

of Portugal The tourism board has also campaigned, with its head, Luis Araujo, saying the outlook for winter tourists in northern Europe is “very positive”.

Tourism data supports his optimism.

Data collected for Reuters by home rental search engine HomeToGo showed that compared to last year, searches from countries such as the UK, Germany and Netherlands increased by 36%, 13% and 3% for winter accommodation in Spain, Greece and Portugal respectively.

Gabriel Escarrer, CEO of Spanish hotel chain Melia, said people are booking apartments and condos for two or three months this winter in the Canary Islands, with a notable presence of Scandinavian visitors.

“Shelter for the winter” and more

Visitors and more permanent residents are also arriving Germany, who was very dependent on Russian gas before the war in Ukraine and is worried about possible power shortages in the winter.

Among the schools that enroll more students from abroad, the German school in Gran Canaria received 40 applications from foreign students this year, which it said was higher than in previous years, without giving precise figures.

Repeople, a collaborative association in the Canary Islands, said it was full for November and 80% full for the rest of the winter.

Among those taking up a place at Repeople is German freelancer Heiko Schaefer, 31, who plans to stay until Christmas.

“The current rise in prices is a reason for many people to move further south,” he said. “This island is a refuge for the winter.”

Airlines will increase the number of available seats by 31% Canary Islandssaid the regional tourism office.

TUI fly, the main airline operating between Germany and the Canary Islands, said it would increase flights by around 10%, adding in a statement that energy costs were “a psychological element” in pushing more people south.

Airbnbshort-term rental firm, said searches for winter breaks in southern Europe tripled between April and June.

Stuck at home or a permanent move

For most northern Europeans, however, heading south is just a dream when rising living costs mean they can’t afford the luxury of travel.

Instead, they are stocking up on goods to keep warm, such as quilts, slow cookers and electric blankets, UK retail figures show.

Others, however, decided to move permanently.

Natasha Caldeiras, from Kent, southern England, and her family are moving in just ahead Christmas to her husband’s native Portugal. They said energy prices were the impetus.

Caldeiras believe the warmer weather will allow them to turn on the heaters for a shorter period than in the UK, where their monthly bills are around £200 (€231) a month and set to rise.

“Even before the energy crisis, we would have liked to be in Portugal because of the weather,” said the 28-year-old.

“But with the energy crisis, (being in Portugal) gives us more security because of the climate.”

Murat Coskun, chief executive of property consultancy Get Properties, said the cost of living crisis was “fuelling the trend” of Britons deciding it was time to leave.

“I don’t think we’re at the peak yet,” he said. “Winter will be hard.”

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