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The revival of the Mediterranean tourism sector offers an opportunity to move towards sustainable tourism

By Ambassador Bernard Valero, Director General of the Agency for Sustainable Mediterranean Cities and Territories (Avitem)




(photo : F.Dubessy)
(photo : F.Dubessy)
Like many others, the tourism sector is being hit hard and globally by the pandemic. In the Mediterranean region, this crisis is even more acute since it has literally decimated a sector of activity that represents a larger share of GDP than elsewhere on all the banks of the Mare Nostrum.

Today, in fact, the tourist sector is reaching rock bottom. In all the Mediterranean countries, the priority is unquestionably the reactivation of the sector and the revival of all the activities linked to tourism, so essential are the economic and social stakes of the resumption of investments, the restarting of flows, the return to employment of millions of Mediterraneans, the cascading reactivation of all the compartments of the tourist game (events, business, cultural, sports, nautical, etc.).
 
All over the Mediterranean, the States and territories most violently impacted are mobilising to absorb the shock and prepare for recovery. On the southern shores of the EU, these efforts will be amplified by the support measures adopted by Brussels and the Member States. The prospect of millions of people going back to work is therefore a compelling one, while everyone legitimately aspires to be able to enjoy the pleasure of packing their bags again when the time comes.
 
Once the double requirement of the necessity and the urgency of this recovery has been established, will it be necessary to stop there, to concentrate only on this objective, to be satisfied with returning to the tourism of before the Covid ?  Not sure.

Recommendations for a new tourism value chain

We remember that in the times before the pandemic, voices were being raised and questions were already being asked about the tourist practices that had taken over the Mediterranean for years: unbridled and speculative urbanisation of the coasts, devastation of the environment, over-visitation of tourist sites and destinations (Venice, Barcelona, Dubrovnik becoming emblematic of this beginning of questioning of mass tourism), carbon balance of air escapades, excessive pressure on certain vulnerable territories, accelerated degradation of terrestrial and marine biodiversity.
 
This progressive questioning of the chain of values of tourism on which it had developed until now was fed on the one hand by the growing awareness of environmental concerns and, on the other hand, by the increasingly perceptible link between tourism and the UN's SDOs, as well as the relationship between tourism and the objectives of the Paris Agreement on Climate. Numerous studies and studies carried out in various forums (UN, UNWTO, EU, UfM) supported the idea that tourism, like any other human activity, should also be part of the virtuous perspective of sustainable development.

Many avenues are now open to those who, fortunately in increasing numbers, are mobilising in favour of sustainable tourism:
  •     The overcoming of all sea and sun, and the diversification of the offer,
  •     The return to nature and the development of rural tourism,
  •     The erasing of tourist ghettos,
  •     The regulation (schedules, gauges, pricing) of the over-use of certain sites,
  •     Spreading the number of visitors and diversifying the uses of the destination areas,
  •     The fairer and more equitable redistribution of tourism revenues to the benefit of host populations,
  •     The emergence of a tourist culture of respect: for heritage, nature, culture and local customs, i.e. the transition from a tourism of consumption, and sometimes even of predation, towards a tourism of discovery and exchange.
 
Far from being exhaustive, this set of recommendations is nonetheless based on a very simple, simplistic idea, some would say, that of reconciling the tourist with the traveller.
 

Trajectory correction

The post-Covid period therefore offers the opportunity not for an improbable break with the habits of before, but at least the possibility of a correction of trajectory, which is nourished by individual and collective reflection on values such as responsibility and solidarity, enriched by innovation, and based on trust in the new generations who are beginning to understand, much faster than one might think, that starting to do tourism again as has been done for sixty years will lead everyone into the wall: to transport snow by helicopter to snow-covered ski slopes in the Pyrenees, to let a wild campground develop at 4,000 metres above sea level near the Goûter refuge on Mont Blanc, to multiply the number of golf courses in an Andalusia that lacks water, Facing pedestrian traffic jams on the pavements of Venice, vitiating the air of the inhabitants of L'Estaque in Marseille with the fumes of cruise ships, examples abound around the Mediterranean of the aberrations to which the excesses of uncontrolled tourism can lead.
 
Regulation, and sometimes even prohibition, can be legitimate recourses in the face of these aberrations. Indeed, these are classic "tools" based on legislative and regulatory corpus specific to each State. Are they sufficient? Obviously not.
 

More intelligent tourism

Innovative avenues must therefore be explored in order to achieve a more sustainable Mediterranean tourism and, consequently, a more resilient Mediterranean:
 
  •     From the coast to the hinterland :
 
Tourism in the Mediterranean will benefit from developing beyond the 10 km coastal strip affected by seasonal overpopulation, pressure on resources, endangerment of the environment and biodiversity, and degradation of the metabolism of coastal areas. It is therefore in the territorial and landscape depths of the coastal fringes that the growth relays of a new tourism are to be found, one of the most successful models of which is offered to us by Italy, and which will give priority to ecotourism, rural tourism and agro-tourism.
 
  •     Data at the service of sustainable tourism :
 
The negative consequences of the progression of over-visitation of certain tourist sites (seaside resorts, heritage sites, landscaped areas) are increasingly visible in a growing number of destinations around the Mediterranean. In order to be sustainable, this tourism must be more intelligent and henceforth make use of Data for data collection and flow management in favour of public information and controlled regulation of the space-time sequence of over-visited sites. The possibilities offered in this field are beginning to be explored, even though the great potential for "doing things differently" is still barely apparent.
 
  •     Nudge" instead of constraint:
 
If the 10,000 steps per day of our IPhones encourage some of us to do a little more physical exercise every day, the same can be said for better tourism management thanks to nudges and behavioural sciences: influencing decision-making without constraints and respecting the free will of each person is thus tantamount to betting on intelligence and individual responsibility, in the service of a more sustainable, respectful and united tourism.
 
  •     Cooperation in the Mediterranean :
 
Although competition is certainly an essential and legitimate driving force for the development of tourism, the fact remains that the questions raised by an inevitable correction of the trajectory make it necessary to rebalance this activity through more cooperation between the States, the tourism stakeholders and the civil societies concerned:
 
  •     Collective reflection on the meaning and purpose of tourism as practised by each other since the middle of the 20th Century,
     
  •     Exchanges of good practices, and there are many of them all over the Mediterranean,
     
  •     A common course has been set towards sustainable tourism, favourable to the populations of the host territories, to young people and to the environment,
     
  •     Collective commitment to make SDOs part of the DNA of Mediterranean tourism.
     
In the end, what is at stake at this very particular moment is our ability, or not, to forge a consensus around the preservation of what the Mediterranean people have most to offer and share: their history, their geography, and the exceptional richness of the diversity of their cultures.
 

Bernard Valero, Director General of the Avitem


Wednesday, December 23rd 2020



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