The Mediterranean - is the tourist boom over?

When I was a young man we considered ourselves fortunate to have a week's holiday in Blackpool every year and I still have fond memories of walking down the prom past Central Pier in my raincoat, munching a hot steak and kidney pie, with gravy running down my fingers! Happy days, but then along came Freddie Laker with his cheap flights and holidaying was never the same again.

Considering Europe's variety of weather conditions, landscapes, cultural diversity, different cuisines, and miles of clean sandy beaches it is hardly surprising that European tourism has become a major industry. In the main tourist countries such as Spain, Portugal and France a considerable proportion of GDP, from tourists and it more than compensates for the money which the populations of these countries spend abroad themselves. Since the 1960s then tourism from the UK has grown enormously with an increasingly large number of people heading for the better weather around the Mediterranean resorts which have in many cases been completely transformed by the growth of hotels and tourist facilities; so much so that many of them have completely lost their previous identities.

Whilst the influx of tourists has had a very beneficial effect upon the economies of these holiday regions there have of course been drawbacks! Quite massive investment has been necessary in order to create an infrastructure which is able to support huge masses of people during the summer months; tourist demand clean water in large quantities, efficient sewage disposal system is (ie no smells), easy transportation links to their chosen resorts and clean, modern and comfortable hotels. To make this whole picture more complex, they also demand that their holidays least no more expensive than holidaying in the UK, and preferably far cheaper!

Within a generation many quiet areas have been transformed into bustling resorts full of holiday accommodation, multi-story hotels, bars, supermarkets and other tourist essentials. This has completely transformed the lives of the permanent residents of these areas and in many ways this has not been for the better as more traditional livelihoods have declined only to be replaced by seasonal jobs in hotels or catering establishments which are not terribly well-paid and which inevitably leave large numbers of people out of work during the quiet season. In addition the infrastructure of many resorts has been completely destroyed by the speculative rush to build more and more cheap hotels to accommodate the new arrivals, who first of all concentrated on various parts of Spain but then moved further afield as they became more used to foreign travel and more affluent, and many parts of Europe which were hitherto very busy and prosperous have become run down. A further problem has been the age old one of pollution. Tourists need sanitary facilities and these have not always been up to scratch with the result that the Mediterranean became an inland sewer, with the only outlets at the Pillars of Hercules, which is of little practical use for flushing out the often only partially treated sewage, and the Suez Canal which is of no use whatsoever.

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A very often underrated negative byproduct of tourism is also stress! Generations of families have lived around the Mediterranean practising their traditional occupations which included fishing agriculture and local industries; many of these have been swept away as scarce land resources have been taken up by tourist developments. This is completely disrupted the lives of millions of people who have found themselves living in a totally different environment to the one that their ancestors had become accustomed to and this has caused considerable mental stress to many people. Further to dress as being caused by the often transient pattern of tourism; a result which is fashionable at the time can suffer from excessive building work, but fashions can change and many a popular resort has found that numbers of tourists have dwindled and so trade has suffered quite dramatic falls, often after quite substantial investment.

Despite the current economic problems tourism is keeping its head up to a large degree but how long this will continue is very difficult to prophesy; some parts of the Euro Zone have seen considerable falls in numbers of British tourists, many of whom are travelling further afield in order to benefit from more benevolent exchange rates in other countries. In addition the growth of the popularity of cruising as a replacement for a land-based holiday is taking increasing numbers of affluent tourists out of the economy of many areas; they may arrive in large numbers in their cruise ships but most of their meals are taken on board and they do not need any hotel accommodation whatsoever so the amount that they are spending in the resorts has been severely decreased.

One of the consequences of the collapse in the property boom, which has been made worse by the current economic problems, is that many developments that were put up for purchase by holidaymakers have ground to a halt, leaving unsightly sites full of rubble and unfinished buildings; hardly the type of thing to encourage tourism. Many shops and restaurants built on the expectation of all the year round caused them from visitors who own or rent property nearby stand empty and decaying. The Spanish government is currently taking quite severe measures to clean up the mess left by illegal building projects; they may have to to carry out a lot more work on this project before tourism numbers start to climb again in many regions.

Copyright John Parker 2009