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Tourism and Upheaval in the Southern Mediterranean Countries

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Nov 10, 2014 / 0 Comments

By Agnes Levallois*


The Euro-Mediterranean region has faced major upheaval in recent years—an economic and financial crisis in the north and protest movements in the south.  Mediterranean societies are restive; they want their voices to be heard and are demanding an active role in determining the economic and social policies to accompany the political transitions.


This awakening, manifested in the form of revolutions, is impacting the tourist sector.  Indeed, the decline in the tourism business stemming from uncertainty is a source of concern in Tunisia and Egypt and, to a lesser extent, in Morocco, as this sector accounts for a significant portion of these countries’ revenue.


According to UNWTO data, during the first half of 2014, "international tourist arrivals grew by 4.6 percent, that is, by as much as all of 2013.”  Destinations worldwide received some 517 million international tourists between January and June 2014.  Tourism figures for the Mediterranean region are good, despite the region’s ups and downs and, more so, for Southern Mediterranean Europe where growth in tourism stood at 7 percent, as well as North Africa (4 percent). Significant gains are therefore being made in this sector.


However, owing to instability in the Middle East, the UNWTO notes a 4 percent decline in tourism during this period, stating nonetheless “that this figure should be taken with caution, as it is based on limited data available for the region.”


Sound performance of the tourism sector in North Africa may come as a surprise, given the media images often beamed of an area plagued by instability and violence. While tourism declined in 2011 and 2012, just after the protest movements, the situation improved as soon as stability was restored. According to UNWTO figures, tourism in North Africa grew by 6 percent in 2013 and Morocco became the top destination in Africa, surpassing 10 million international arrivals. Without a doubt, the situation has been helped by the aggressive marketing policies of the Tunisian, Moroccan, and Egyptian Governments.


However, what is most important is the awareness that the model in place thus far belongs to a bygone era and that tourist demand for socially responsible experiences should be taken into account.  Changing the tourist experience requires a medium- and long-term vision and the preparation of development plans by new actors, and acceptance of these plans by the people so that they can reap the resulting benefits.


For example, the monopoly by big hotels of all the water resources, to the detriment of the supply to nearby cities and villages, is no longer acceptable to the people.  Issues related to natural and environmental wealth distribution are now front and center in discussions held in the sector.


Furthermore, before the revolutions, tourism sector stakeholders enjoyed advantages derived from their relations with the government elite. Currently, the newly-elected officials, who are more open than their predecessors are, by virtue of this fact, accountable for their actions to a populace that is demanding more in the area of governance.  The expectation is therefore that procedures will be more transparent and that land access will be based on strict rules and will no longer be entirely subject to the whims of the elite. Social relations will probably evolve in tandem with the demands on the table.


These are all factors driving the desire and need for a new tourism model, as advocated by associations active in the Mediterranean region, which are placing the promotion of heritage and the non-profit, cooperative-based economy at the center of their projects so that everyone can have a stake in this activity.

Agnès Levallois

Agnès Levallois is a consultant and specialist on the Arab world and Mediterranean issues.


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