The islands of the Mediterranean have experienced great development in recent years with the expansion of their tourism sector. Tourism integrates many positive elements, generates job opportunities, especially for young people and women, improves seasonal income, promotes the construction of infrastructures, develops technologies and services, and facilitates the cultural and social exchange that enriches the traveller and the destination. However, there is a big difference between growth and a fair and consistent distribution of income, and today we know that “getting back to normal” is not the way to build a prosperous and sustainable future.
With COVID-19, the islands have suffered losses of billions of euros of activity, both direct and indirect. The world has gone through a painful, heavy and costly phase in its long confrontation with the virus, and the battle continues. That is why we are facing an opportunity to restart the sector and offer a new post-COVID-19 tourism model.
Present and future challenges, for the Mediterranean in general and its islands in particular, are to become a sustainable tourist destination and impose a shared responsibility based on the three pillars of sustainability: economic, environmental and social. The tourism of the future incorporates balanced and focused development objectives, and requires a change of attitude in the entire value chain: destinations, companies and tourists.
The Mediterranean is the number one tourist destination and accounts for 30% of world income and 12% of regional GDP, a similar percentage of registered employment. Now their islands require vital support to facilitate their transformation towards a new, more resilient, green and blue model that strengthens local economies in a balanced and sustainable way. The islands must become the aircraft carrier for this new regional tourism.
The islands of the Mediterranean must be coordinated. They must work for their common objectives and to face their common problems: climate change, profitability, seasonality. A cooperation project of a coherent and efficient Mediterranean tourism market is necessary. Consolidate a “Mediterranean Brand” and profitable tourism aligned with the Development Goals. Without a comprehensive plan that consolidates its leadership, recovery and long-term sustainability are in jeopardy. We cannot compromise future needs by poor strategy and management today.
The islands are special vacation destinations, they are in our culture and imaginary, nowhere more than in the Mediterranean in summer. But the impact of the current tourism model, such as marine litter on the beaches, is especially visible on the islands. We must take advantage of the situation generated by the pandemic to rethink the model.
In past times, the tourism sector has demonstrated its ability to overcome crises and adapt to change, boost growth and create jobs, despite economic and geopolitical challenges, terrorism or natural disasters.
The islands of the Mediterranean can emerge from the pandemic strengthened, and continue to be an engine of the economy. But governments and the private sector must work together to overcome the impact of the pandemic and this unprecedented social and economic crisis.
It is important to value tourism in the Mediterranean islands. But it will be necessary a strategy and instruments in which all the actors involved should involve. National and regional policy makers must use new approaches to provide a robust response to help the sector recover. There are precise normative, regulatory and institutional frameworks with sufficient incentives to stimulate the development of supply and productive capacity. A common strategy that guarantees that the Mediterranean tourism sector becomes resilient, sustainable, inclusive and competitive.
Community-driven tourism also promotes responsible consumer behaviour by fostering a deeper cultural exchange and understanding than traditional sun and beach tourism. Do not forget the importance of visitor awareness. Consumers are a powerful engine of change. Their voices and demands have the power to improve the economy and well-being.
The pandemic can be the transforming point of the economies of the Mediterranean islands and from there, of the entire region. We know that we must cut greenhouse gas emissions in half. We are living a Fourth Industrial Revolution, with new digital tools, which are a powerful accelerator of inclusion, competitiveness and cooperation that improves sustainability. Since the global financial crisis of 2008, we know that we must evolve. While tourism has historically shown a great capacity to adapt, innovate and recover from adversity, this unprecedented situation requires new approaches, a strong response and partnership at various levels.
Ferdinand Braudel said that “the Mediterranean is not a landscape but innumerable landscapes. It is not a sea but a series of seas”. The Mediterranean is a sea of islands and therefore attracts millions of visitors from all over the world. Faced with the pandemic, uncertainty economic and the continuing challenge posed by climate change, we can face the challenges of the future for the long-term sustainability of the Mediterranean islands.
Article written by Anwar Zibaoui, General Coordinator of ASCAME