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23rd Sep 2021

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How to make Mediterranean mass tourism sustainable?

  • Mass tourism, which is destroying natural eco-systems, can be turned into sustainable tourism around the Mediterranean Sea (Photo: EUobserver)

Some 30 percent of the world's tourists go on holiday in and around the Mediterranean Sea.

In absolute numbers, that is more than 300 million people every year. And this number is even expected to be 500 million by 2030.

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The top tourist destination is France - followed by Spain, Italy, Turkey, Greece, Egypt and Morocco.

Half of tourism in the Mediterranean is coastal tourism, which amounts up to 11.3 percent of the regional GDP.

This means that tourism is a huge source of income and employment in each of the coastal European, North-African and Middle Eastern countries.

Mass tourism however, has also a serious downside for the Mediterranean coast: it destroys ecosystems on land and in sea.

It also often excludes the local economy and puts pressure on local communities.

Turning a town or area into sustainable eco-tourism site is also risky, as one or more wrong decisions might result in a loss of income.

That's the reason why several communities have decided to work together in the framework of the Inttereg MED cooperation, an initiative mainly funded by the European Union's cohesion funds.

The purpose is to exchange best practices and to learn from successes and failures.

Europe's regional cooperation policy

Interreg MED is a network of 900 national, regional and private partners. From the European side alone it represents 57 regions, in 13 countries.

Europe's cohesion policy is not only about building infrastructure, but also promotes regional policy, be it cross-border (two EU countries), transnational (several EU countries) or European wide cooperation (all EU countries).

The difference between EU policy and EU regional policy is that the latter is based on voluntary project-based participation.

Where the European Commission makes legislation that – when supported by the European Parliament – has to be implemented by the member states, transnational organisation make manuals.

The manual on sustainable tourism for example helps local authorities to change their community from mass tourism to eco-friendly tourism, without losing (much) income.

One example is turning protected areas into zones of sustainable tourism. Several zones in the Mediterranean have been selected for cooperation.

One of them is the Wadi Rum area in Jordan, made famous by the movie Laurence of Arabia and has had to deal with mass tourism that destroyed the site incrementally.

Learning from other communities with protected areas in the Mediterranean, tourism in the Wadi Rum is now run by the local Bedouin community, with a clear interest in keeping the desert intact.

The result of this sustainable tourism is not only that nature has been preserved, but it helped to attract more value-seeking tourists, who, by spending a bit more, have also increased the income and employment of the local community.

Even though Jordan is not and probably never will be a part of the European Union, it serves as an example of how European cooperation can improve the European neighbourhood and how on its turn it can serve as a model for European communities.

Or as Tatiana Fernandez, head of the Economic Promotion Area of Catalunya said during the last Interreg MED conference: "When we work together, the results are better".

Author bio

This story was commissioned by Interreg Med from EUobserver. EUobserver retained full editorial control over the content.

Disclaimer

This article is sponsored by a third party. All opinions in this article reflect the views of the author and not of EUobserver.

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