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What is Blue Tourism and What does this Mean for the World?

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Blue tourism in an emerging type of tourism. But what is it and why does it exist? Find out in this article…

There are plenty of buzzwords when it comes to travel, and especially sustainable travel. But what do they all mean, and why do they actually matter? Today I’ll be diving into blue tourism: what it is, and what it means for the world and for the future of travel.

What is blue tourism?

What is Blue Tourism and What does this Mean for the World?

Blue tourism in general refers to tourism relating to the marine environment such as coastal areas, cruising, beaches and so on. The term likely comes from ‘blue economy’, an economic term relating again to the marine environment – its preservation, exploitation, and regeneration. It is often used in terms of international development, especially when referring to a sustainable approach to developed coastal areas and resources. Coastal and marine tourism are major economic contributors in countries where the coastline (and the sea or ocean itself in some cases) is both attractive and accessible to the general population.

Blue Tourism also refers to a project, Blue Tourism Opportunities, which is focused on ensuring that coastal and maritime tourism around major Regional Seas is managed, governed, and planned in a way which encourages sustainability. It is a long-term research and innovation project, co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union. I will dive further into the project below, discussing what they do and who is involved.

Examples of blue tourism activities 

When it comes to blue tourism in general, there are plenty of activities which fall into this category. You can do them all over the world, and many you will have already taken part in yourself! They include:

  • Beach-based tourism such as sunbathing, snorkelling, swimming, and visiting beach clubs/bars
  • Coastal walks or hikes
  • Coastal wildlife watching
  • Sailing and/or yachting
  • Boat tours such as glass-bottomed boat trips, dolphin/whale watching boat tours, sightseeing cruises, and so on
  • Cruises and river cruises
  • Watersports such as water-skiing, surfing, wakeboarding, parasailing, and paddleboarding
  • Fishing, either from the land or a boat
  • Scuba diving

You might not think of some of these things as specifically ‘tourist’ activities, especially if it’s your hobby, but many tourists do engage in these activities when visiting a new location. Beach resort tourism and cruise tourism are two examples of mass-market blue tourism.

Mass-market blue tourism

What is Blue Tourism and What does this Mean for the World?

As mentioned, two examples of mass-market blue tourism are beach resorts and cruises. Beach resorts, typically meaning a coastal area that people visit on holiday which has a lot of hotels, restaurants, bars, retail outlets and excursion opportunities, are a huge part of tourism. You can find them anywhere that has an accessible beach, from Spain to the Maldives to the beautiful Greek islands. With rental apartments and supersized all-inclusive hotels, there are many different types of holiday to be had within the category of beach resort tourism. 

Cruise tourism is another example of mass-market blue tourism. By their very nature, cruises take place on the water – whether that’s a river cruise with 250 passengers along the Danube or a trip to the Caribbean with thousands of other guests, cruises are a brilliant example of blue tourism. You’ll experience the open water and various coastal ports.

Is blue tourism sustainable?

There is a lot of research into whether blue tourism, at the rate it currently occurs, is sustainable. Blue tourism brings with it a high amount of pressure on the natural maritime resources that make it so popular; for example, cruises generate a lot of waste which has an impact on marine life and the immediate ecosystem. While there are laws and rules in place when it comes to disposing of waste, it is undeniable that there is a negative effect on the environment in terms of pollution. 

And with other examples of blue tourism, we can see almost a catch-22. People want to visit beautiful areas, because they’re so lovely – but the more popular they get, and the more people visit, the less beautiful they become over time thanks to increased footfall and the general negative impact of humans on the environment. A specific example of this is the closure of Maya Beach in Thailand – a stunning location, made famous in Leonardo diCaprio’s The Beach (2000) – in 2018. Located on the island of Koh Phi Phi Leh, the beach is truly breathtaking.

But with 5,000 visitors per day flocking to the bay after seeing the movie and wanting to experience it for themselves, it became severely polluted. Over 90% of the surrounding coral reef died, and the decision was made to temporarily close the beach to tourists. The beach reopened in 2022, after seeing a welcome return of wildlife in the area, with restrictions in place to limit the number of visitors per day. This in itself presented a further catch-22 situation: the area relies on blue tourism to generate income.

What is Blue Tourism and What does this Mean for the World?

There are of course other impacts of blue tourism in terms of sustainability and the environment for coastal areas. More hotels means more food (and food waste!) as well as more electricity being used, an increase in the amount of transportation vehicles on the road, further noise pollution, and more littering. Natural habitats can be destroyed by the increase in human activity, and there is more pressure put on endangered species too. From soil erosion to the overuse of water, blue tourism has a huge impact on the environment. 

Economic sustainability 

I already touched upon the catch-22 of areas and businesses relying on blue tourism to generate income in coastal areas, and this is a really important point. But it goes deeper than that; for example, there is a lot of expenditure leakage which occurs throughout the tourism industry. Money spent to visit these coastal areas does not necessarily directly benefit these locations – if you book a stay at a British-owned chain hotel in Sharm el-Sheikh, for example, the bulk of the profit generated from this booking is going to someone in the UK rather than benefiting the Egyptian economy. Put simply, tourist expenditure is not equally distributed across all tourism stakeholders.

Mass tourism in general, and blue tourism in coastal locations, can and often does lead to a rise in the cost of living for local people in these areas. Businesses put prices up when they know they have a captive audience (tourists, in this case) but of course this means that the prices also go up for the people who live in these places. This means citizens have a much lower purchasing power.

On top of this, much of blue tourism is seasonable. People are much less likely to visit gorgeous coastal locations if it’s raining, cold, or windy – tourists prefer to spend their time in the warm sunshine, experiencing clear blue skies and unhindered views. This means there will be times of the year in which locations see a decline in visitors and tourism. In turn, this leads to job insecurity reflected in low wages coupled with a high workload during busy times. Again, it is generally the local citizens who are impacted by this.

The United Nations on blue tourism & the blue economy

What is Blue Tourism and What does this Mean for the World?

The UN recently described the blue economy, relative to blue tourism and sustainability, as something which “comprises a range of economic sectors and related policies that together determine whether the use of ocean resources is sustainable. An important challenge of the blue economy is to understand and better manage the many aspects of oceanic sustainability, ranging from sustainable fisheries to ecosystem health to preventing pollution. 

Secondly, the blue economy challenges us to realize that the sustainable management of ocean resources will require collaboration across borders and sectors through a variety of partnerships, and on a scale that has not been previously achieved. This is a tall order, particularly for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) who face significant limitations.”

One of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals applies to ‘life below water’’. To this end, they have a vested interest in ensuring that blue tourism is sustainable and continues to be so in order to meet this goal. The goal itself is to Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development, and the UN says that current efforts to protect marine life and everything that goes alongside that aren’t enough. They want to decrease illegal fishing and make fishing in general more sustainable, reduce marine pollution, increase scientific knowledge around ocean life and much more.

The Blue Tourism Opportunities project

Earlier in this article I touched on Blue Tourism Opportunities (BTO) as a project, co-funded by the Erasmus+ Program. BTO is an example of the type of partnership mentioned by the UN in their description of blue economy.  The project aims to identify where they can implement various environmental planning and sustainable management strategies for companies located in areas which see heavy blue tourism. 

Blue Tourism Opportunities say “the blue tourism sector has a special potential to encourage the development of new companies, which entails the implementation of actions that benefit both the improvement of the professional skills of graduates and university students with an entrepreneurial character in the knowledge of blue tourism as a greater involvement of the universities in the incorporation of educational programs of entrepreneurship in blue tourism in their curricula and the corresponding active participation of their professors.”

Essentially, they are looking to educate people about the impact of blue tourism and how to increase its sustainability by presenting information to students and graduates, as well as to universities to use in their course materials. 

Blue Tourism Opportunities’ objectives

What is Blue Tourism and What does this Mean for the World?

The project has four main objectives, which you can read about below:

  1. The improvement of business skills, including the business social skills of graduates in higher education.
  2. The implementation of curricula and training programs in universities that meet the needs of the blue tourism industry.
  3. The improvement of the professional competence of university professors in relation to the MOOC method in areas related to entrepreneurship in blue tourism.
  4. The use of mentoring as a collaboration and support tool between the university / professor /student on the blue tourism business spirit.

They aim to achieve these objectives through training and mentorship.

What does blue tourism mean for the world?

When it comes to the impact of blue tourism and everything discussed in this article, I have already touched upon the practicalities of what blue tourism is – the activities which make up this particular sector of tourism. That’s what it means as it stands, in specific tangible terms.

However, I have also spoken about the environmental impact of blue tourism and we need to understand what *that* means. Our oceans are essential for making this planet liveable, which is why it is SO important to protect and conserve them. According to the EPA, ocean acidification has risen by 25% since preindustrial times; this is just one example of how humans, and our ever-changing world/lifestyles, have impacted marine life. With around 3 billion people relying on marine life to make any sort of income, it is so important to protect our global water (seas, oceans, rivers and so on) to ensure people can continue to make their living.

We have already started to see ways in which blue tourism is changing in order to be more sustainable. One example is that cruise lines are doing their best to become more eco-friendly; most new cruise ships are being built to run on liquified natural gas which produces 25% less carbon dioxide and up to 95% less nitrogen oxide than conventional fuel used by most existing cruise ships. Cruise lines are also banning single-use plastic, investing in shore power, offsetting carbon emissions and more. Virgin Voyages’ ships have no buffet, a staple of most cruise ships, which cuts down food waste – and their balcony hammocks are purchased from a social enterprise that fosters women’s empowerment in rural Thailand.

We can all do our bit in terms of travelling more sustainably, especially when visiting places as part of blue tourism. Choose eco-friendly or green resorts, look for excursions which directly benefit the local economy, take part in beach clean-ups, use public transport instead of taxis… all of the things you can think of which make general travel more sustainable are definitely beneficial to blue tourism!

You will see things change as companies involved in blue tourism look to continue being more sustainable – whether this means certain dishes come off the menu, particular excursions are no longer available and so on, it is all for a greater good. Ensuring the wellbeing of our planet’s water is so important.

Blue tourism- To conclude

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