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By Agnès Levallois*
The desire to discuss tourism at the workshop organized jointly by the Provence Alpes-Côte-d'Azur Region and the Center for Mediterranean Integration (CMI) could, at first glance, seem surprising, if not out of place, in view of the situation in several southern Mediterranean countries. However, nothing could be further from the truth!
The discussions revealed that against a backdrop of upheaval and changing relations between both sides of the Mediterranean, it is even more critical to invest in this integrative activity that forges connections, promotes growth, and creates jobs while, of course, protecting the environment.
All this, of course, on condition that authorities revisit the tourism policies in place before the revolutions, when decisions were made solely based on economic interests, to the detriment of the interests of local populations, and exerted tremendous pressure on the environment. The days of rent capture by the political and economic authorities are over.
The discussions among the participants—whether ministers, elected officials, bankers, representatives of international organizations, or actors from associations operating on the ground—were extremely enriching, ranging from analyses drawing on lessons learned from forms of tourism that are now outdated, such as mass seaside tourism, which excludes local populations, and new forms of alternative, solidarity-based tourism lauded by new actors who aim to offer another vision of their country and their region, one that respects its citizens and the environment, by developing, for example, guesthouses that not only help foster friendly interactions, but also provide valuable additional resources for the families. This form of tourism also has the advantage of being integrated into the country and facilitating balance among the regions. This point is clearly significant if one remembers that the revolution in Tunisia began in an impoverished region, one that was neglected in development policies and projects, which were focused mainly on the coast.
Experience exchanges between the Coopérative Hôtel du Nord in Marseille and the Maroc Inédit association, for example, were fascinating because they demonstrated that the goals were very similar: a participatory, integrated project with more direct channels and no intermediaries, placing citizens at the center of discussions and the project.
Another important exchange dealt with protection of heritage: how can we reconcile the management of tourist sites with the tourist flows they generate and the protection of heritage; how can we manage the tension between promoting this heritage and the market-driven approach? To accomplish this, is it necessary to call on the private sector since the States no longer have the means to assume the costs? Yet, it would be dangerous to allow the private sector to act independently because profitability concerns may take precedence over respect for the sites and management of environmental issues.
Political issues are always involved when the subject of tourism is raised, and this question of tourism in the Palestinian territories arose as a result of constraints associated with the occupation and the sensitive issue of Jerusalem.
Finally, mobility was mentioned because we cannot speak about tourism if men and women cannot obtain a visa to visit tourist attractions in Europe or other places across the globe.
The new situation in the southern Mediterranean countries—although the situations differ significantly between Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt (looking at just these countries)—suggests that a new element has emerged: the involvement of citizens in public affairs. The best evidence of this are the various electoral processes that these countries have undergone over the past three years. Conversations about tourism do not overlook this new reality and the discussions held in Marseille were living proof of this.