The Mediterranean is the world’s number one tourist destination. In 2019, just before the pandemic, it was receiving more than 400 million tourists a year. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), the sector constituted 15% of the gross domestic product and 11.5% of employment in the region. However, the sun and beach model has proven to be fragile, and its long-term consequences can be fatal. In response to this problem, the Association of Mediterranean Chambers (ASCAME) proposes adventure tourism as an alternative that offers economic, environmental, and social benefits.
Mass tourism: a failed model
One of the biggest problems of mass tourism is seasonality. The European Environment Agency notes that, in some areas of the Mediterranean, 75% of annual waste production is generated in summer. Furthermore, the type of employment offered by this model tends to be informal and temporary, as well as low paid. This combination of environmental and labour insecurity translates into a clear social instability.
For Anwar Zibaoui, General Coordinator of ASCAME, the answer is to reformulate the sector in line with the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations. “By 2030, tourism is expected to reach a record number of more than 1.8 billion travellers crossing international borders. If you ask me if that is an opportunity or a disaster, I will tell you that it depends on how this volume of growth is managed. A well-developed tourism sector can favour innovation and entrepreneurship without compromising our future. However, 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.”
This is an idea that ASCAME has been emphasizing for years, even before COVID-19 rocked the sector. “Unfortunately, the ongoing climate disasters and the collapse of international tourism under the pandemic have proved us right,” adds Zibaoui.
Adventure Tourism: pandemic-proof and responsible growth
With the travel restrictions of the last three years, a new type of tourism has gained popularity. We are talking about Adventure Tourism; this type of tourism encompasses activities that take place outdoors and involve some form of physical exercise or cultural exchange. Some examples? Trekking, bird watching or cycling along a wine route. After the pandemic, consumers are looking for more meaningful tourism, linked to experiences and providers they can connect with. That is why the private sector forecasts that Adventure Tourism will grow by 15.2% between 2023 and 2030.
The Mediterranean, with its immense cultural and natural wealth, has the potential to become a great destination for this type of tourism. However, visitors to the region tend to be concentrated in a few areas, contributing to inequality within the countries and degrading the fauna and flora in the most crowded locations.
In this sense, one of ASCAME’s key commitments is the collective promotion of the Mediterranean under a single brand. By diversifying destinations within the region, local economies would be boosted, labour precariousness linked to seasonality would be combated and the environmental impact would be minimised. 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 (with 3.3 million euros) and developed by ASCAME in collaboration with a long list of public and private entities: the Barcelona Chamber of Commerce, the Barcelona Provincial Council, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), Puglia Region and the Ministries of Tourism of Lebanon and Jordan, among others.
Mediterranean Adventures aims to build a common framework to reposition less-known Mediterranean destinations in the international market. To achieve this, it offers participating companies and institutions various resources, such as promotional tools and training. However, the highlight of this Alliance is the development of a marketplace for tourism products. Through an intuitive and easy-to-use search engine, consumers can find adventure activities with a seal of quality, reflecting the biodiversity of the Mediterranean and offering physical and cultural enrichment.
“Sun and beach, yes, but also culture, history, nature, food and adventure”. A user of the marketplace explains what she finds most attractive about the proposal. “Millennials and Gen-Z are citizens of the world, we seek to experience the destinations and to connect with the communities we visit”. And this is precisely the value proposition of Mediterranean Adventures. To boost its effectiveness, the project partners have launched an intensive marketing campaign in the main tourist outbound markets: the United Kingdom, Germany, Norway, the Netherlands and the United States.
What ASCAME pursues through this alliance is to promote a type of tourism that is respectful of cultural and natural heritage and that increases the competitiveness of local businesses. The numbers back them up: according to ATTA, 65% of the profits produced by adventure tourism stay in the destination countries. But this amount is reduced to a mere 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 Spain, but the aim is to scale the model to the whole Mediterranean region.