Thematic Paper #1: Identifying challenges and gaps towards sustainable tourism in the Mediterranean

Although accounting for less than 1% of the world's total sea surface, Mediterranean Sea is regarded as lying amongst the most important global biodiversity hotspots, whilst its rich maritime and coastal ecosystems provide a fertile ground for the development of various socioeconomic activities (Marignani et al. 2017). According to a UNEP/MAP Blue Plan Regional Activity Centre report (2010) the value of these ecosystems is believed to exceed € 26 billion annually. Among others, economic activities which rely their development on the exploitation of Mediterranean Sea ecosystem services are fisheries, aquaculture, tourism and maritime transport (UNEP/MAP, 2012). These kind of activities form the so called “Blue Economy” of the Mediterranean Sea whose total Gross Value Added for 2010 is estimated at about €63 billion (EUNETMAR, 2014)[1]. Despite their contribution to the improvement of the region’s social well-being, the development of Blue Economy sectors poses serious threats on the coastal and maritime environment (Plan Bleu, 2005; Marignani et al. 2017).  The most important pressures on the environment are the pollution caused by contaminants, human-induced eutrophication, marine litter, marine noise, the introduction of non-indigenous species and coastal land take (UNEP/MAP, 2012).

Tourism is amongst the most important maritime and coastal uses of the Mediterranean. The region hosts about 20% of the total global foreign tourist arrivals per year whilst the GVA of tourism is estimated at €25.3 billion, accounting for more than 40% of the total ‘Blue Economy’ GVA of the Mediterranean (EUNETMAR, 2014). Nevertheless, structural characteristics of tourism, such as seasonality and lack of differentiation, underpin its further potential in revenues and income generation. Moreover, tourism poses important pressures on the environment and is regarded as one of the major drivers of change of the coastal and maritime environment of the Mediterranean (Marignani et al. 2017). In terms of policy, tourism related policy framework could be considered as fragmented in spatial and thematic terms as -up to date- no framework exclusively associated to tourism development exists at the Mediterranean level (Scoullos and Ferragina, 2009; MED-Iamer Project, 2015).

In order to confront the tourism-related socioeconomic, environmental and governance challenges, the Interreg-MED Programme has funded 14 projects during the 1st call of the programming period 2014-2020, under Axis 3.1 “To enhance of a sustainable and responsible coastal and maritime tourism in the MED area”. These projects, although sharing the common long term objective of enhancing the sustainable and responsible coastal and maritime tourism, are still approaching tourism sustainability through various rationales and are quite diverse in terms of partnership composition, employed methods and spatial focus. Thus, one of the key priorities of the Interreg-Med is the harmonization of the projects’ outcomes and results towards a unified valuable input for various policy makers of the Mediterranean.   

Under this scope, the present thematic paper codifies the preliminary results of the first thematic working groups which were held during the Thematic Community on Sustainable Tourism Kick-off Meeting organized by BleuTourMed[2] horizontal project in Marseille in 16-17 March 2017. These working groups (WGs) were the first common exercise of the Community’s projects in order to create synergies within the Community which could be based on the projects common methods, gaps and challenges. Section 2 follows the general concept of sustainable and responsible tourism in the Mediterranean and explains the approach for the composition of the working groups. Finally, Section 3 discusses the main gaps and challenges and the common issues towards sustainable tourism development as these were identified by the projects during the working groups.  


[1] Mediterranean region for the present paper includes the following North Mediterranean countries: Cyprus, Greece, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, Malta, France, Spain and Portugal. 

[2] BleuTourMed is an INTERREG-MED Horizontal project, which aims at supporting and ensuring synergies between the 14 thematic/modular projects selected under the ‘Axis 3.1 To enhance of a sustainable and responsible coastal and maritime tourism in the MED area’ with the objective of creating a cluster of projects able to enhance jointly solutions for the protection and promotion of natural and cultural resources in the Mediterranean area through a coherent strategy of Community Building, Communication and Capitalisation.