Tourism industry in the Mediterranean “paradise”: Can there be limits to aggressive growth?

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Yacht marina by Luis Paredes

What do one in three tourist share in the World? The answer is: they choose the Mediterranean to spend their holiday. Mild temperatures, a wide range of landscape and endless sandy beaches attract every year millions of tourists.

According to the final report of the “Coastal Tourism in the Mediterranean: Adapting to Climate Change” conference, which took place in Cagliari, Italy, from 8 to 10 June 2009, 300 million people visited the Mediterranean region in 2008, turning it into the world’s most popular destination.

The huge number of tourists has provided an important income to Mediterranean countries which have developed the tourist sector as one of the principal pillar of their economy. It has got positive effects on the society such as the growth of employment and promoting knowledge of culture and customs. In the case of local areas, the tourism helps to conserve the traditions which attract tourists to the region.

However, disadvantages have overtaken a number of advantages in most of the cases. The 80% of travellers’’ fees go to the airlines, hotels and other international companies, and therefore local businessmen and workers do not benefit much, according to the report “The Economic and Social Impact of Tourism”, by Batir Mirbabayev and Malika Shagazatova.

The destruction of the Mediterranean landscape has other negative effects, too. The view of virgin seas where the highest spot was marked by the vegetation has been replaced by the sprawl construction of touristic resorts, typically in the form of 20-storey towers, which repeat themselves throughout the coastline. The Mediterranean basin has got more than 40,000 km of coastline, more than half of which already heavily urbanized.

The desire to offer apartments with “zero distance from the sea” has been driving the individual builders and property development companies into building houses adjacent to the sea where the homeowners can nearly touch the water by simply leaning off their balconies. As a consequence, the massive touristic regeneration and infrastructure projects continue to pose a destructive threat on the ecosystem and biodiversity of Mediterranean coastal landscapes which contain 20% of the world’s plant species.

For example, in Murcia, southern Spain, the natural park Cabo Cope is going to become the biggest touristic resort in Europe. The park was unprotected by the local government in order to build 22 hotels with a total capacity of twenty thousand rooms, a marina big enough to host twenty thousand boats, five golf courses and ten shopping centres, according to the latest report by Greenpeace, entitled Destrucción a toda costa (this satirical title can be translated as “Costly destruction of all coasts”).

The new city will receive sixty thousand people which involve a significant increase in the consumption of natural resources such as fresh water. The Mediterranean coastline hosts most of its tourists over a three months period in the summer, a time when the water sources record the highest level of consumption. Mediterranean countries already suffer severe water shortages which are exacerbated by the amount used to watering gardens, golf courses and filling swimming pools. The situation gets worse due to the increase in temperatures and lack of rain due to climate change.

Thinking of solutions

The key phrase which explains how the tourism has become an enemy against the earth is the “irresponsible development”. For so many years the absence of any protective legislation, the ignorance of the damage to the ecosystem and the desire to make profit has shaped the tourism policies in the region.

Those who are against this trend stand and campaign for a sustainable tourism. They argue that countries should maximize the positive economic, social and cultural effects of tourism and fully reap its benefits, while minimizing its negative social and environmental impacts, according to the facts and opinions complied by the World Tourism Organization.

The United Nations agency has adopted a global code of ethics to promote an equitable and responsible world tourism order. The code highlights

, and its role also as a protector of environment by its support for the tourism activities which preserve the ecosystem and biodiversity.

If tourism development industry does not transform itself into a sustainable industry, the natural resources will be exhausted and the idyllic Mediterranean basin will become one of the last destinations where tourists would want to go for holiday.

 Published in Mernet Newsletter December 2009

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