Unmanaged mass tourism is a stress for protected environments including Marine Protected Areas. Tourism needs to be managed with an approach that integrates conservation goals while benefiting local populations. Consensus building with users, operators and local people is a key enabler.
Indeed, tourism is by far the activity that most interrelates with protected areas, but Mediterranean nations do not have a shared strategy and do not cooperate much on this subject. For now, tour operators control demand and real estate speculation pulling on the market.
MPAs cannot and should not replace local or national tourism bodies but they can build long-term consensus with their stakeholders.
Mass tourism is the biggest danger for MPAs, but if it is well managed, it can also become a significant source of income for them. When tourism is ecologically responsible, it tend to be more profitable at a local level.
The problem for MPAs is the intensified number of visitors in summer, but spreading these massive visits over the year is not a solution because it gives less time at the ecosystem to regenerate itself. Besides, there is not a final answer to the touristic challenge the MPAs are facing, but a multitude, because each case is different.
Sustainable tourism in MPAs was the topic of the MedPAN experience exchange workshop in 2015. Download the proceedings of this workshop.
A previous MedPAN workshop (in the framework of the INTERREG project in 2006) also covered this theme.
Ecotourism and the MEET network
According to the World Tourism Organisation, ecotourism is the subject of a growing demand. Thanks to its landscapes diversity, the richness of its biodiversity and its cultural wealth, the Mediterranean is one the most propitious regions for its development. Several ecotourism projects are being developed there, and one of them is the MEET Project.
The MEET network was formed during the MEET project (2013-2015) that aimed to develop an ecotourism model for MPAs based on the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism in order to promote a better distribution of seasonal touristic flows
The MEET network mission is to improve the cooperation between Mediterranean Protected Areas, to advocate for a sustainable management of Eco-tourism activities and to provide help to members in understanding and promoting Eco-tourism, including trainings and collaborations with private sector, as a tool for conservation and sustainable development.
The DestiMED project will further develop and test ecotourism standards, offers and monitoring tools in 13 protected areas around the basin – forming the quality scheme of a future DMO. It will build on results of the MEET (Mediterranean Ecotourism Experience) project, where different planning and marketing approached were created and tested. These results will be enriched through the use of a monitoring tool.