The tourism sector is amongst the highest income generators in the Mediterranean, contributing directly to regional economies thanks to sectoral synergies and powerful knock-on effects. However, as important as it is economically and socially, tourism also puts a great deal of strain on the natural, cultural and social environment. It creates a high demand for space on land and sea and leads to a high concentration of activities during specific periods and in specific geographical areas. The impacts of this dramatically affect the attractiveness of the area. Such pressures take their toll on many areas, including water and waste management and energy efficiency.
Indeed, tourism worldwide is estimated to account for 5% of global CO2 emissions, 40% of which arise from air transport and 20% from hotels and other types of accommodation. The remaining 40% is related to other types of transport (cruises, cars, railway, etc.) and to the recreational services provided by tourism.
The growing awareness of those impacts has led to the promotion of sustainable tourism as a major priority for the future of the sector; a challenge that must be taken up both for the sake of local communities, who stand to benefit economically and socially, and for the sake of raising awareness and support for environment conservation and protection.
Thus, many EU environmental sector-based policies recognise that tourism is exerting undue pressures on the natural and built environment, that this poses a threat to the quality of life of local populations and that it could potentially degrade the tourism assets.
Policy-makers emphasize that environmental sustainability is increasingly essential to the tourism sector.
In spite of this, however, tourism policy at the European level remains primarily focused on boosting the competitiveness of the sector. There is a lack of specific legislation and targets, while references to tourism-related sustainability challenges continue to be fragmented and dispersed across sector-based policies and all the accumulated legislation of the EU. Current EU policies related to tourism only partially reflect the socio-economic and environmental realities of the tourism industry, on the whole failing to take account of complex and interconnected nature of this sector and, mostly importantly, of its sustainability challenges.
More sustainable tourism planning and management practices would not only mitigate and prevent those impacts, but also provide real opportunities to reverse those trends. Effective and responsible channelling of tourism activity could benefit natural, cultural and social destinations’ environments as well as economic prosperity.
Finally, there is an urgent need to reduce the negative impacts of tourism in the Mediterranean region in order to comply with the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Mediterranean Strategy for Sustainable Development 2016-2025. These challenges could be addressed by providing credible, comprehensible, diverse and replicable alternative tourism models.
Therefore, it is crucial for policy and decision makers to work with effective tools to address tourism pressures in order to advance towards the sustainable development of this important economic sector and of tourism destinations.
Read the full policy factsheet #2
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