University of Malta
Institute for Tourism, Travel & Culture
The idea of sustainable tourism was discussed for the first time at the Earth Summit held in 1992 in Rio. It has become a very important concept and the United Nations declared the year 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.
Sustainable tourism rests on three pillars: environmental integrity, economic development and social justice. It is defined by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) as “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities. Sustainable tourism should thus make optimal use of environmental resources, respect host communities and ensure viable, long-term economic operations, providing benefits that are distributed fairly among all stakeholders”.
UNEP, UNWTO (2005), Making Tourism More Sustainable – A Guide for Policy Makers. The definition has remained valid since then.
Sustainable tourism has a significant role to play in environmental conservation and in driving socioeconomic development. It is mentioned in several of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including:
Target 8.9: By 2030, devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products.
Target 12.b: Develop and implement tools to monitor sustainable development impacts for sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products.
Developing the tourism sector sustainably is also essential to achieving Objective 1 of the Mediterranean Strategy for Sustainable Development 2016-2025 (MSSD), i.e. “ensuring sustainable development in marine and coastal areas”, as well as Objective 5 of a “transition towards a green and a blue economy”.
The Mediterranean is the world’s leading tourist destination, both in terms of international and domestic tourism. In 1970, 58 million International Tourist Arrivals (ITAs) were registered in Mediterranean countries. By 2014, this number had increased to 314 million, and the region was expected to attract 355 million ITAs in 2016, half of these in coastal areas.
It is worth noting that the top five destinations in the Mediterranean accounted for more than 80% of the region’s total ITAs: France (83.7 million ITAs in 2014), Spain (65 million), Italy (48.5 million), Turkey (40 million) and Greece (22 million). Moreover, while the North-West Mediterranean accounted for 64% of ITAs, South East Mediterranean accounted for only 17% of them, North East Mediterranean for 14% and South West Mediterranean for 5%.
WTTC (2016), Travel & Tourism – Economic impact 2016 Mediterranean
UNEP, MAP, Plan Bleu (2016), Tourism and sustainability in the Mediterranean: key facts and trends. Those numbers include the entire countries, not only the coastal areas.
Making significant allowance for challenges faced by tourism due to health pandemics and terrorism, among others, the growth potential for tourism is thus important in Southern and Eastern Mediterranean Countries (SEMC), such as Morocco or Egypt (around 10 million ITAs each), Tunisia or Israel, even though it could cannibalise parts of the sector in northern countries.
In 2015, the direct contribution of tourism to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Mediterranean countries was more than €300bn (4.5% of the regional GDP) whereas the total contribution (direct, indirect and induced) was more than €770 bn (11.6% of the GDP). This was expected to reach 12.5% of the region’s GDP by 2026 (almost €800 bn). In terms of jobs, tourism (coastal and inland) represented 11.5% of total employment in 2015 in the Mediterranean economies (19.8 million jobs, of which 7.8 million direct jobs). This is also expected to increase, and reach 12.4% of total employment in 2026.
WTTC (2016), Travel & Tourism – Economic impacts 2016 Mediterranean
At a sub-regional level, the total contribution of travel & tourism to GDP in North African Mediterranean countries (Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia) was circa €50 bn in 2016 (9.7% of GDP) and was forecast to rise by 4.3% per annum to more than €75 bn by 2027 (10.0% of GDP). As we have said, and will see, recent global developments have upended projections.
In terms of employment, the sector generated 2.19 million jobs directly in 2016 (4% of total employment), and should account for 2.8 million jobs in the region by 2027, an increase of 2.7% per annum over the next ten years.
The following graph displays, on the next slide, the contribution of travel & tourism to direct, indirect and induced employment.
WTTC (2017), Travel & Tourism – Economic impact 2017 North Africa.
Direct employment includes jobs from hotels, travel agents, airlines and other passenger transportation services, as well as restaurant and leisure industries directly supported by tourists; indirect employment includes travel & tourism investment spending, government spending, purchases from suppliers; induced employment includes spending of direct and indirect employees on e.g. food, housing, etc.
The average contribution of tourism to GDP and employment is lower in North African Mediterranean countries than for the Mediterranean region as a whole. This is especially due to the low level of tourism in Algeria and Libya.
WTTC (2017), Travel & Tourism – Economic impact 2017 Tunisia.
The coastal area of the Mediterranean region is hosting a large number of valuable world heritage sites protected by the UNESCO World Heritage Center. In many countries (Portugal, Italy, Malta, Tunisia, Egypt, Cyprus, among others) the majority of those sites, if not all of them, are located at a very short distance from the coast line. They are major touristic attractions for local and foreign visitors and should be promoted, in a responsible way, to educate and acknowledge the common history and culture of the Mediterranean community.
The satellite image shows how much forest has been destroyed by wildfires on the Greek island of Evia in a comparison between August 1 and August 11, 2021.
If not managed properly tourism can bring about negative environmental externalities in the Mediterranean. Some of the most serious environmental impacts are the following:
Pressures on local ecosystems, land and biodiversity losses, for instance due to building tourism facilities or increased waste. It is estimated that in some countries (France, Italy and the Balkan States), more than half the coastline is now paved;
Marine/beach litter: 52% of marine and beach litter come from coastal tourism in EU Member States;
Water pollution caused by urban waste production, tourist facilities or cruise ship sewage systems;
Air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from transport and tourism facilities have greatly increased in the last decades, especially due to increasing air transport in the Mediterranean;
Demand for natural resources: in particular water, food, fossil fuels (high energy consumption by the sector, linked mainly to transportation and accommodation);
Decrease in the aesthetic value of landscapes due to urbanization and infrastructure development.
Starr S. (2015), The Mediterranean’s urban sprawl: ‘You know a city’s near by the plastic in the sea’, The Guardian
WWF (2017), Reviving the economy of the Mediterranean Sea
MedCruise (2017), Cruise Activities in MedCruise Ports 2016
UNEP, MAP, Plan Bleu (2016), Tourism and sustainability in the Mediterranean: key facts and trends
Plan Bleu (2011), Cruises and recreational boating in the Mediterranean
WWF (2015), Blue Growth in the Mediterranean Sea: the challenge of good environmental status
Therefore, sustainable coastal tourism in the Mediterranean is crucial for socio-economic development of the local territories and communities. But it should “develop and promote practices and solutions to ensure efficient use of natural resources and reduce environmental impacts of tourism, respecting spatial, ecological, and socio-cultural carrying capacities of the destination”. Albeit somewhat belatedly, the Union for the Mediterranean stakeholder conference “Towards a Roadmap for Blue investment and jobs in the Mediterranean” held in May 2015, in Athens it was recognised that environmental concerns should be factored-in, in order to strike the right balance needed for environmentally-friendly tourism.
UNEP, MAP (2017) Regional action plan on sustainable consumption and production in the Mediterranean
Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) Stakeholder’s Conference „Towards a Roadmap for Blue Investment and Jobs in the Mediterranean“,
In addition to preserving nature and biodiversity, sustainable tourism generates economic benefits. These can occur through two main areas:
– by reducing the costs of tourist facilities through energy, food and water savings, and
– by creating differentiated market which attracts new type of tourists, whole year long and with higher power purchase.
UNWTO (2016), Measuring Sustainable Tourism: Developing a statistical framework for sustainable tourism