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Towards An Eco-Tourism Destination In The Mediterranean Region: The MEET Network


The ENPI-MED Programme – a financial instrument of EU for enhancing the North-South cooperation in the Mediterranean area – has funded in 2012 the MEET (Mediterranean Experience of Eco-Tourism) project, which has established a Network of 20 Protected Areas (from 8 Mediterranean countries) that are testing a Catalogue of eco-tourism packages addressed to foreign markets. The project is led by Federparchi – Europarc Italy with a partnership of the main PA policy-maker Institutions of 6 Mediterranean countries. The packages have been conceived using a participative planning approach widely developed in EU, i.e. the “European Charter for Sustainable Tourism in the Protected Areas”, launched a decade ago by Europarc Federation. Currently the package has been tested with some external experts and TOs representatives, and will be fine-tuned and promoted during 2015.

Problem, challenge or context: 
The Mediterranean region includes diverse ecosystem types, with many hotspots and endangered species and habitats. At the same time it is among the most popular tourism destinations in the world, for its cultural heritage and natural attractions (especially seaside). Finally it is one of the world areas with more human pressure, especially on the coastlines. Mediterranean countries have established a large number of Protected Areas and a good surface coverage through their efforts, but this is not enough to reduce the biodiversity loss and the human pressure on natural assets. Parks face pressure from a huge number of visitors, the largest proportion being domestic tourists and day-trippers. At the same time parks are suffering a decrease of public funding, due to the economic crisis (especially of the southern EU countries) and of the turbulences of the so called “Arab spring”. Therefore tourism within the Park is potentially both a source of income but also a driving force for negative impacts at the environmental-social-cultural-economic level.

Specific elements of components: 
A partnership of PA management-related Institutions at regional level 

The project partnership is led by Federparchi – Europarc Italy with the involvement of the main PA policy-maker Institutions of 6 Mediterranean countries (Italy, France, Spain, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon), including IUCN Med and IUCN ROWA, the French National Parks Federation, MedPAN (the network of the Marine Protected Areas of the Mediterranean), Lazio and Cataluña Regional governments, the Jordan Royal Society for Conservation of Nature and the Al Shouf Biosphere Reserve in Lebanon. This top-level partnership assured political support, strong management and wide dissemination of the project results.


A reliable participative planning tool

Any development of a huge human pressure like tourism must be carefully planned, managed and monitored. For this reason the MEET packages are part of a wider sustainable tourism planning process based on the “European Charter for Sustainable Tourism in the Protected Areas” (already implemented in more than 130 European Parks), where all the local stakeholders are involved in establishing the Strategy and selecting the actions to be implemented by the Park Authority for assuring the sustainability of the tourism sector in the Protected Area.


A marketing-oriented approach

Different typologies of tourists visit PAs; we focussed our action towards the most suitable ones (the eco-tourists) because, beside their profitability potential, they can become the “Ambassadors” of a new model of visiting the Parks, i.e. the MEET approach, the latter forcing the PA managers – with the involvement of the local stakeholders – to design a tourism package of high quality. Each package lasts at least   days, and it includes natural and cultural attractions, as well as traditional activities with a local community. The group cannot exceed 16 people.



The project has created a Network of 20 selected PAs from 8 Mediterranean countries (Italy, France, Spain, Greece, Malta, Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia) which has a Secretariat (IUCN Med) and an Antenna (IUCN ROWA), which assure capacity building support and the promotion of the “MEET Catalogue of packages” (offering more than 40 packages for small groups) towards far markets like USA, Australia, Canada, North Europe, etc. Such sources of income should guarantee for the future the sustainability of the Network.

Key lessons learned: 
Cooperation is better than competition

Any Protected Area makes efforts to increase ecotourism within its territory. Concerning foreign markets, usually Parks are in competition, since they offer a similar product to the same target. Joining together 20 Parks from 8 different Mediterranean countries, composed of little MPAs and big National Parks, located from the sea to the mountains, with centralized or decentralized managing bodies, we realized that the Mediterranean Parks system can become a unique “eco-tourism destination” for the eco-tourists coming from very far markets, who can move from a PA to another one in the same trip.


Eco-tourism is more than nature-based tourism

Since we are in the Mediterranean, eco-tourism is not just visiting beautiful natural assets and watching flagship species, but “meeting a territory”, where the relationship between humans and land has created particular features (landscapes, métiers, etc.) throughout the centuries. Therefore the trip becomes an experience, where local inhabitants are the guides but also the “housekeepers”, and the visit is an exchange. The “accountability” of such experience has imposed, for example, that the package cost includes also CO2 off-setting mechanisms and a contribution to a local conservation/development project.

Impacts and outcomes: 
Coordination at the regional level 

MedPAN is already a successful example of the benefits for the Mediterranean Parks of working together. PAs benefitting from this project are improving their ability to cooperate with Parks of foreign countries with a new entrepreneurial approach such as MEET suggests, and this is demonstrated by other common initiatives that are in the design phase. 


Improved capacity in tourism planning and management 

The use of the “European Charter for Sustainable Tourism in the Protected Areas” approach allows the PA management body to set up an overall strategy for sustainable tourism and a 5-year Action Plan in a sharing-decisions process with all the local stakeholders. Its effectiveness has been demonstrated through tangible results: certification has been obtained by almost of the selected EU Parks, and also the non-EU parks are willing to be certified by Europarc.


Increased involvement of local communities and esp. of economic actors 

The focus on a marketing-oriented approach has led to a better cooperation among Park’s management and local economic actors, and the open and transparent planning process has improved the trust of local inhabitants towards the Park.

Contact details: 
Luca Santarossa
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