24 projects acting for a more sustainable tourism in the Mediterranean

Balancing the tourism economic returns with the protection of natural resources and population in one of the most famous touristic destinations in the World is a challenge for many Mediterranean municipalities. The 24 projects of the Interreg MED Sustainable Tourism community have pinpointed priorities and solutions in a set of policy recommendations for local and regional authorities to use . Meanwhile, the Covid 19 crisis has brought new opportunities, yet to grasp.

The Mediterranean is the most popular touristic destination in Europe and in the world. In 2014, the region received "one in three international tourists worldwide." France, Spain and Italy are the top three destinations in the Mediterranean "representing 58% of total arrivals in the area" according to a report of the UNWTO.

If we look at the current statistics, this trend is not going to stop any time soon. Every year, the destination registers record number of arrivals. The Mediterranean is expected to reach 500 million tourists in 2030  with serious impacts on the natural and cultural resources but also on local populations. If nothing changes, tourism will "represent 10% of CO2 world emissions in the next 20 years" according to the Interreg MED Sustainable Tourism Community, a community gathering 24 projects and involving over 200 entities. Figures are clear-cut. It is urgent to change our way of conceiving tourism (be it business tourism or leisure tourism). What if the Covid-19 was an opportunity to do so? An opportunity to accelerate the process engaged by the promoters of sustainable tourism? 

"With the sector employing some 27 million people and generating over 10% of the EU's GDP"  according to the European Commission, it is one of the most important sectors for the economy of the European Union and the Mediterranean region, especially for the coastal and maritime areas. 

The Sustainable Tourism community of the Interreg MED Programme recognises the importance of tourism for the economy of the region but urges to take actions. The Community has been working since 2017 to develop and promote sustainable tourism in the Mediterranean region, a tourism which protects the quality of life of local population and the natural and cultural resources.

In Athens, on 4th and 5th October 2017, the Community project partners signed a declaration committing themselves to making tourism more sustainable by sharing methodologies for a joint action.

The Community identified four priority action areas that can be summarised as follow:

  • Invest in monitoring tools to measure tourism sustainability;
  • Reduce the environmental, cultural and social impacts;
  • Ensure a sustainable and responsible economic growth;
  • Implement governance mechanisms. 

For each priority area, they produced policy factsheets. The result of this work is a set of policy recommendations that can be found here: policy recommendations

In this document the community explains the reason behind their choice of priority area, the challenge, the solution, the project results on which the solution is based, the concrete actions necessary to achieve the solution and how the proposed actions support the implementation of already existing regional or global policies. 

 If nothing changes, tourism will represent 10% of CO2 world emissions in the next 20 years.

In a nutshell, the community advocates for the collection, production, harmonisation and analysis of data sorely lacking the tourism sector in the Mediterranean. The Community created a search engine that gives access to a wide range of documents related to tourism sustainability issues. This web tool is a first step towards a data platform on tourism in the region. http://cbbtmtools.panteion.gr/ 

The Community also advocates for the implementation of a common methodological framework comprising a set of indicators to measure the sustainability of tourism (check out WINTER MED webinar on this topic); a redistribution of tourist flows in time and space; an inclusive and participatory approach taking into consideration the opinion of local population; the inclusion of the private sector and the creation of a true governance system gathering the major stakeholders and political levels concerned.

Tourism  being a complex sector, various areas need to be taken into account to make it sustainable.

Sustainable transport system is one of them. It is all the more important that the region suffers from a  lack of efficient mobility transport systems, be it mobility inside the destination or in and out. Mediterranean cities would greatly benefit from investing in sustainable transport solutions. Indeed, a region or a city with efficient transport is even more attractive to tourists. 

The Sustainable Tourism Community is aware of the importance of this sector for the development of sustainable tourism, this is why, they joined forces together with the Urban Transport Community to organise a webinar on the topic (see here beside). “The goal of the webinar was to share good practices on the integration of sustainable and smart mobility in tourism policy/products and to showcase some concrete examples and practical guidelines developed by the projects of the community” the Community says. (Read the webinar report here)

Other aspects that need to be considered when talking about sustainable tourism is renewable energy and biodiversity protection. Since the beginning, the Community has been working hand in hand with the other 2 communities of the Programme dealing with these issues.

The Covid-19 has put tourism in the agenda of EU institutions and the Sustainable Tourism Community has decided to grasp this opportunity to make their voice heard. They have “been following up the measures taken by EU institutions on impact mitigation in tourism sector and recovery plans to evaluate how the community could benefit or contribute”, they explained.

In the next months, we should therefore hear more about what the Community is cooking up within the post Covid-19 recovery context. 

In the meantime, you can check their website.