The Mediterranean is the world’s leading tourist destination. In 2019, just before the pandemic, it welcomed more than 400 million tourists a year. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), the sector accounted for 15% of gross domestic product and 11.5% of employment in the region. However, the “sun and sand” model has proven to be fragile and its long-term consequences can be fatal. Faced with this problem, the Association of Mediterranean Chambers (ASCAME) proposes adventure tourism as an alternative offering economic, environmental and social benefits.
Mass tourism: a failed model
One of the main problems with mass tourism is seasonality. The European Environment Agency reports that in some areas of the Mediterranean, 75% of annual waste production is generated in summer. Moreover, the type of employment offered by this model is often informal, temporary and poorly paid. This combination of environmental insecurity and job insecurity translates into obvious social instability.
For Anwar Zibaoui, General Coordinator of ASCAME, the answer lies in a reformulation of the sector in accordance with the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations. “By 2030, tourism is expected to reach a record number of over 1.8 billion travelers crossing international borders. If you ask me if this is opportunity or disaster, it all depends on how this growth is managed. Well-developed tourism can foster innovation and entrepreneurship without compromising our future. But the current model of tourism, especially in the Mediterranean, is not sustainable in the long term: neither for the economy, nor for society, nor for the planet”, declares Anwar Zibaoui.
This is an idea that ASCAME has been pushing for years, even before COVID-19 came to shake the sector. “Unfortunately, the persistence of climatic disasters and the collapse of international tourism under the effect of the pandemic have proven us right,” adds Anwar Zibaoui.
Adventure tourism: responsible growth and sheltered from pandemics
With the travel restrictions of the past three years, a new type of tourism has gained popularity. This is adventure tourism, which encompasses outdoor activities involving some form of physical exercise or cultural exchange. Some examples ? Climbing a mountain, bird watching or discovering a wine route by bike. Post-pandemic, consumers are looking for more meaningful tourism, tied to an experience and providers they can connect with. This is why the private sector predicts that adventure tourism will increase by 15.2% between 2023 and 2030.
The Mediterranean, with its immense cultural and natural wealth, has the potential to become a great niche for this type of tourism. However, visitors to the region tend to concentrate in a few areas, leading to inequalities between countries and degrading flora and fauna in the busiest destinations.
In this direction, one of ASCAME’s key commitments is the joint promotion of the Mediterranean under a single brand. The diversification of destinations within the region would make it possible to revitalize local economies, to fight against the precariousness of employment linked to seasonality and to minimize the impact on the environment. In short, it would strengthen the sector in the long term and improve the quality of life of a society that currently depends on a fragile sector.
ASCAME’s latest initiative to build this regional brand is the Mediterranean Adventures alliance, a pilot project co-funded by the European Union (to the tune of 3.3 million euros) and developed by ASCAME in collaboration with a long list of public and private entities : the Chamber of Commerce of Barcelona, the Provincial Council of Barcelona, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), the region of Puglia and the ministries of tourism of Lebanon and Jordan, among others.
The objective of Mediterranean Adventures is to create a common framework to reposition lesser known Mediterranean destinations in the international market. To do this, it offers participating companies and institutions various resources, such as promotional tools and training. However, the strength of this alliance is the development of a market place for tourism products. Through an intuitive and easy-to-use search engine, consumers can find adventure activities with a quality label, reflecting the biodiversity of the Mediterranean and offering physical and cultural enrichment.
“Sun and sand, yes, but also culture, history, nature, gastronomy and adventure. A marketplace user explains what she finds most appealing about the proposal. “Millennials and Gen Z are global citizens, we seek to live the destination experience and connect with the communities we visit.” This is precisely the value proposition of Mediterranean Adventures. To increase its effectiveness, the project partners launched an intensive marketing campaign in the main tourist source markets: the United Kingdom, Germany, Norway, the Netherlands and the United States.
ASCAME seeks through this alliance to promote tourism that respects cultural and natural heritage and to increase the competitiveness of local businesses. Supporting figures, the ATTA indicates that 65% of the profits generated by adventure tourism remain in the destination countries. But this figure is reduced to a paltry 14% when it comes to mass tourism. In other words, to generate $10,000 in the local economy, it takes 36 cruise tourists and only 4 adventure tourists. Zibaoui is clear: “The Mediterranean brand stimulates inclusive growth, generates jobs, attracts investors, creates SMEs”.
So far, the project has attracted partners from Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia and Spainbut the aim is to extend the model to the entire Mediterranean region.