The Mediterranean is the world’s leading tourism destination in terms of both international and domestic tourism with more than 300 million international tourist arrivals representing 30% of total world tourists for 2014. International tourist arrivals have grown from 58 million in 1970 to nearly 314 million in 2014, with a forecast of 500 million by 2030. About 50% of these arrivals are in coastal areas (Figure 3.5).

Figure 2.5
International Tourism Arrivals trends from 1995 to 2014 (Source UN-WTO)
Figure 2.6
International Tourism Arrivals in the Mediterranean countries in 2015 (Source UN-WTO)

In 2016, Tourism contributed to create 333.2 billion US$ in the Mediterranean countries. During the last 20 years, the direct contribution of tourism to GDP in the Mediterranean region has increased by 53%. Tourism is a major pillar of Mediterranean economies, offering consistent employment (11.5% of total employment in 2014) and economic growth (11.3% of regional GDP). In the Mediterranean basin, tourism is vital for many countries: considering exclusively coastal areas economy, tourism represents over 70% in terms of Production Value and Gross Value Added (Figure 3.17).

Figure 2.7
International Tourism Receipts, 2015 (Source UN-WTO)

Mediterranean coastal tourism has benefited and contributed to the democratization of the holiday dream, offering easy-to-reach and affordable leisure breaks through the so-called 3S (Sea, Sand and Sun) model. (Plan Bleu, 2017)

All-in-one packages including low-cost airlines, comfortable accommodation and cheap food, have massively increased tourist flows towards the Mediterranean coasts. Over the years, the 3S model has been extended to include different facilities, including golf courses, swimming pools, leisure parks, etc. Visitor travel patterns have also evolved: whereas at the beginning they used to spend their holiday at the same place for a longer period, nowadays they prefer to get away more often during the year for shorter stays away from home. In general, the relationship between the economic benefits, usually captured by large international operators, and the induced social and environmental transformation at destination level remains problematic. Local communities are increasingly concerned to preserve their natural, economic and social assets from negative impacts, which may arise from the development of facilities for tourism purposes.

Coastal tourism represents many of the problems associated with uncontrolled human activities and the following issues have been identified:

  • Linear and coastal urbanization, consuming the precious but very limited resource of coastal areas;
  • Water pollution, waste generation and marine littering;
  • Overconsumption of scarce natural resources (water, etc.), in particular during seasonal periods (summer);
  • Land degradation, biodiversity losses and decrease of the aesthetic value of landscapes;
  • Greenhouse gas emissions due to energy mismanagement and inefficiencies;
  • Obsolescence of 3S model, low level of competitiveness, resilience and innovation;
  • Poor quality of employment generated (seasonal, low salaries, unqualified, often part-time, etc.);
  • Economic leakage, i.e. unbalanced distribution of tourism generated revenues;
  • Lack of integration of sustainable tourism needs in planning for other sectors.

In addition, the Mediterranean Sea is among the most important cruise areas in the world: it reached 27 million passengers in 2013, with a sustained increase of around 5% per year. Cruise infrastructures remains located on northern shore: 75% of Mediterranean ports are in Italy, Spain, France, Greece, Croatia and Slovenia, while 9% of ports are in Turkey and Cyprus; and 7% in Northern Africa. (Plan Bleu 2017)