Belgian Town May Sue Over Soggy Weather Forecasts

Aug 17, 2012
Originally published on August 17, 2012 11:06 am

Parts of Europe are experiencing extremely rainy weather this summer. But some tourist towns in Belgium and the Netherlands say their season has been blighted too — not by bad weather but by bad weather forecasting.

The mayor of the Belgian seaside resort of Knokke says it's a crime that tourism there is down this year. He means that literally.

Leo Lippens wants to sue the private weather service Meteo Belgique for issuing a pessimistic full-summer forecast that he says wasn't "fair" because it didn't emphasize that the Belgian coast generally has clearer weather than the rest of the country.

"We all know we're not in the Cote d'Azur or southern Italy," he says. "But we have a fantastic climate here and to give the impression it is disgusting is disgusting and that I don't allow."

The private meteorological service forecast a while back that Belgium would have only two weeks of sunny weather in August.

Lost Tourist Revenue

Lippens rejects Meteo Belgique's clearly published legal disclaimer of responsibility for forecasts.

He says enormous sums of tourism revenue have been lost because of this forecast and he's determined to make Meteo Belgique pay — one way or another.

"That's public disinformation and when you arrive at that stage, you ... should be closed down or financially responsible," he says.

Maarten Van Autreve works in sales at La Reserve, a large resort hotel, and confirms that its occupancy rate is way below the seasonal average, down by 20 to 30 percent.

The hotel's owner also backs taking legal action against Meteo Belgique.

Christine Navet, who manages Knokke's Royal Zoute golf course, says she hasn't seen a spike in cancellations this summer but agrees Meteo Belgique should be held legally responsible, if possible.

The forecast "has given lots of problems to people who have invested in restaurants and terraces and beach activities to welcome tourists," she says.

But Lippens, the mayor, goes a step further, accusing Meteo Belgique of purposely diverting tourists because it has financial interests in travel agencies booking trips to other countries.

Trying to relax in a suburban park on a rare sunny day in Brussels, Meteo Belgique's owner, Xavier Lizin, says this whole maelstrom has been a shock for him. He rejects outright the notion that his company has any financial incentive to distort the predictions.

Lizin says he plans to take his own holiday on the Belgian coast this summer and says everyone needs to remember that weather forecasts are just estimates.

But in the neighboring Netherlands, Bianca Fransen of the Association of Recreation Entrepreneurs says her group has lodged a similar complaint about Dutch meteorologists. "We've seen them say, 'It's going to be a horrible summer,' when in reality, it was just one bad week," she says.

A Dutch politician also threatened to fine forecasters, but Fransen says they've found a resolution. Meteorologists promise to point out more specifically where weather will be bad and, more important, where it will be good. Fransen calls it a "recreational forecast."

At Belgium's Knokke beach, American tourist Karen Levy, who returns there every year, thinks the mayor should just lighten up about a lawsuit.

"That's ridiculous," she says. "I don't really come for the weather anyway; there are so many outdoor things to do and kids don't care. They go swimming anyway."

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Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Lots of people were worried that rain would ruin London's Olympics. It didn't. But some in Belgium and the Netherlands claim their peak season has been blighted, not by bad weather, by bad forecasting. Teri Schultz explains.

TERI SCHULTZ, BYLINE: The mayor of the Belgian seaside resort of Knokke says it's a crime that tourism there is down this year. He means that literally. Leo Lippens wants to sue the weather service Meteo Belgique for issuing a pessimistic full-summer forecast he says wasn't fair in any way because it didn't emphasize the Belgian coast generally has clearer weather than the rest of the country.

LEO LIPPENS: We all know that we are not in the Cote d'Azur or in southern Italy, but we have a fantastic climate and to give the impression it is absolutely disgusting is disgusting, and that I don't allow.

SCHULTZ: Lippens rejects Meteo Belgique's clearly published legal disclaimer of responsibility for forecasts. Lippens says enormous sums of tourism revenue have been lost because of this forecast and he's determined to make Meteo Belgique pay one way or another.

LIPPENS: That's public disinformation and when you arrive at that stage, you should be able to be closed down or you should be able to be financially responsible.

SCHULTZ: Maarten Van Autreve works in sales at the large resort hotel La Reserve and confirms their occupancy rate is way below the seasonal average.

MAARTEN VAN AUTREVE: Minus 20 to 30 percent.

SCHULTZ: And pre-bookings for the rest of the summer?

AUTREVE: Even lower, because they are all waiting last minute until they are sure of the forecasts.

SCHULTZ: The hotel's owner backs taking legal action against Meteo Belgique.

Christine Navet manages Knokke's Royal Zoute golf course. She hasn't seen a spike in cancellations this summer but agrees Meteo Belgique should be held legally responsible, if possible.

CHRISTINE NAVET: This kind of blah-blah has given a lot of problems to people who have invested in restaurants and beach activities to welcome tourists.

SCHULTZ: But Mayor Lippens goes even one step further, accusing Meteo Belgique of purposely diverting tourists because it has financial interests in travel agencies booking trips to other countries.

LIPPENS: It doesn't smell very good.

SCHULTZ: Trying to relax in a suburban park on a rare sunny day in Brussels, Meteo Belgique's owner, Xavier Lizin, says this whole maelstrom has been a shock for him. He rejects outright the notion his company has any financial incentive to distort predictions.

XAVIER LIZIN: (Foreign language spoken)

SCHULTZ: Asking whether Lippens could really believe that.

LIZIN: Incredible, the story.

SCHULTZ: Lizin says he plans to take his own holiday to the Belgian coast this summer and says everyone needs to remember weather forecasts are just estimates.

But in the neighboring Netherlands, Bianca Fransen of the Association of Recreation Entrepreneurs says they've lodged a similar complaint about Dutch meteorologists.

BIANCA FRANSEN: We've seen them say things like it's going to be a horrible summer, when in reality, it was just one bad week.

SCHULTZ: A Dutch politician also threatened to fine forecasters, but Fransen says they've found a resolution. Meteorologists promise to point out more specifically where weather will be bad, more importantly, where it will be good. Fransen calls it a recreational forecast.

Back in Belgium on Knokke's beach, American tourist Karen Levy, who returns here every year, thinks the mayor should just lighten up about a lawsuit.

KAREN LEVY: That's ridiculous. But I don't really come for the weather. There's so many outdoor things to do and the kids don't care. They go swimming anyway.

SCHULTZ: But Mayor Lippens says whether or not city attorneys advise pursuing a lawsuit against the weather service, he won't be letting the matter just blow over.

For NPR News, I'm Teri Schultz in Brussels.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.