Coastal and Maritime Tourism


The following typologies can be distinguished by: i) location (coastal tourism and maritime tourism) and ii) sub-sector (beach tourism and water-based tourism).

Please note that cruise tourism is described in the sector fiche on Shipping and Ports, and not within the Coastal and Maritime Tourism topic.

Basic facts

  • Gross value added: € 183 billion[1]
  • State of the sector: Mature and growing[2]
  • Presence across sea basins: Dispersed throughout all sea basins, strong in the Mediterranean region and growing around the Baltic Sea and Atlantic Ocean[3]
  • Land-sea interaction present[4]
  • Strong seasonality[5]
  • Lifetime of installations depends on sub-sector
  • Semi-compatible with most uses[6]

Frequently asked questions

What are the present spatial needs of the coastal and maritime tourism sector?

Depending on the sub-sector, maritime and coastal tourism is both a linear and area based activity. In most cases maritime activities take place along the coastline as well as between the shore and on-water tourism activity areas[7], while for instance diving, snorkelling and underwater cultural heritage are place-based activities. The distance to shore is typically between zero and few km. Water depth depends on sub-sector needs and might be a crucial element for certain activities (e.g. water-based activities such as boating, yachting, nautical sports).

Although mass tourism is likely to stabilize or even decline in future, the spatial implication of this type of tourism will remain the same: direct use of sea space mainly along the coast, impacts on the sea environment and water quality in particular and environmental pressure on land are among the factors deserving special attention within MSP processes[8].

Which anticipated future developments of the industry are relevant to MSP?

Continued Growth: The expected continued growth in coastal tourism, both in terms of nights spent in coastal regions but also in number of tourists, has implications on onshore spatial planning mainly through the construction of new infrastructure and ports[9]. Thus, demand for additional infrastructure and services/activities is likely to increase with the growing success of high profile tourism, characterised by a relatively high volume of visitors, high level of quality and unique value[10].

Growth of so-called niche tourism (characterised by specific added-value services or locations) will strongly depend on holiday accommodation (e.g. accommodation in areas with rare sea birds). In turn, niche tourism is likely to impact areas with limited facilities and of high sensitivity, hence requiring specific infrastructures and innovative, yet spatially limited, solutions in e.g. natural and protected areas[11].

Environmental Impacts of Other Sectors: The environmental impacts of other sectors may impact coastal tourism; any maritime and land-based activity affecting environmental quality can in principle negatively affect this sector.

Adaptation to Climate Change: Coastal areas might be affected by a number of climate change related impacts (e.g. flooding, erosion, saltwater intrusion, increase in temperatures and periods of dry/drought) that can have direct and indirect effects on coastal and maritime tourism. Coastal defence is of prime importance to counter coastal erosion and flooding and maintain tourism facilities and activities.

Recommendations for MSP processes in support of the sector

Importance of Land-Sea Interaction: Land-sea interaction (LSI) aspects are highly important, as most of the needed infrastructure is land-based.

A tool for synergies with other sectors: MSP can be a tool to increase synergies with other maritime sectors.

Diversification: The tourism and recreation sector can benefit from diversification prompted by MSP through time, space and the introduction of new activities.

Stakeholder involvement: As the sector appears to be fragmented, MSP can create opportunities for bringing together different actors.

Synergies and economic gains for the sector: Having a sustainable environment should be seen as an enabler of synergies and a source of economic gains for the sector.

For more information

For more information, please visit:


[1] European Commission (2014). EC Communication: A European Strategy for More Growth And Jobs In Coastal And Maritime Tourism, Brussels, 20.2.2014 COM (2014) 86 final.

[2] Ecorys (2016). Study on specific challenges for a sustainable development of coastal and maritime tourism in Europe.

[3] Ibid.

[4] EU MSP Platform (2017).Maritime spatial planning: addressing land-sea interaction. [A briefing paper].

[5] European Commission (2014).EC Communication: A European Strategy For More Growth And Jobs In Coastal And Maritime Tourism, Brussels, 20.2.2014 COM (2014) 86 final.

[6] Ecorys (2012).Scenarios and drivers for sustainable growth from the oceans, seas and coasts.

[7] Ecorys (2013). Study in support of policy measures for maritime and coastal tourism at EU level.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ecorys (2016). F Study on specific challenges for a sustainable development of coastal and maritime tourism in Europe.

[10] Ecorys (2013). Study in support of policy measures for maritime and coastal tourism at EU level.

[11] Ecorys (2016). Study on specific challenges for a sustainable development of coastal and maritime tourism in Europe.

Frequently Asked Questions

Without the proper management of space, behavior and flows of visits in coastal destinations, tourism activities can significantly increase the pressure on the coastal and marine environment. This is even more relevant for mass tourism, which tend to concentrate high number of visitors on specific destinations, often in a limited period of the year. Although pressures and impacts are strongly related to the number of visitors, they also depend on the tourism typology. Among the negative consequences, the most relevant can be: overexploitation of coastal land for tourism infrastructure and services, coastal and marine habitat deterioration, loss of biodiversity, impacts on water quality, and competition for natural resources.  Spatial implications (e.g. marine areas significantly affected, impacted habitats which play a relevant role for fisheries, environmental externalities which might affect aquaculture siting and management, etc.) of these and other locally relevant impacts of coastal and maritime tourism shall be taken into account in MSP.

Coastal and maritime tourism significantly rely on the quality of the environment, thus proper management of the tourism pressure on the environment is essentially needed and beneficial for the long-term sustainability of the same sector.

The study ‘Tackling challenges for Mediterranean sustainable coastal tourism: An ecosystem service perspective’ provides valuable information on the impacts of coastal and maritime tourism on the environment. It identifies the threats generated from coastal tourism and human activities on ecosystem services, and their negative feedbacks effects in terms of attractiveness to the coastal tourism industry itself. 

Furthermore, coastal and maritime tourism may affect the compatibility or incompatibility of uses, which are highly dependent on the various seasonal stages of an ecosystem and, therefore, might significantly change over time. Indeed, coastal and maritime tourism may have an impact on the cycle of the different ecosystems in a specific area. These variations should be  taken into account when maritime spatial management decisions are made.

The Med-IAMER project has addressed the issue of the impacts of coastal and maritime tourism on the environment. It did so  by developing maps, indicators and factsheets for the Mediterranean sea region to display spatial information about socio-economic drivers and environmental pressures.

The ADRIPLAN project used the methodological tool of cumulative impact to evaluate the potential impact of maritime activities on the environment, thus quantifying the pressures generated by the uses on the environmental component.

Considering the aforementioned pressures and threats on the environment due to tourism, the following elements could be considered by planners when organizing the spatial development of tourism activities:

  • The good environmental status of coastal and marine spaces, so that tourism activities (as well as other economic sectors) that are totally dependent on a healthy ecosystem can prosper and grow;
  • Smart distribution of coastal and maritime tourism activities so as to mitigate environmental degradation;
  • Resilience against climate change effects (sea level rise, coastal erosion, etc.).

MSP can be a tool to promote synergies between tourism and other maritime sectors such as aquaculture, fisheries, nature protection and valorization and preservation of underwater cultural heritage sites. .

There are several interactions between the maritime sectors, which are not always wholly compatible.

For example, fishing and tourism are two important sectors with intrinsic relations. When fishing occurs along the coastline, the area might be considered more attractive for tourism, which can benefit not only from local seafood products, but also from the fishery tradition and culture. This tends to be more relevant for small-scale fisheries. Synergies and compatibility between the two sectors can be even more tight as in the case of pescatourism. Form of environmental protection including conservation, education and use of sustainable fishing practices can be applied during pescatourism activities. Similarly, synergy can be promoted also with aquaculture, enabling tourists visiting aquaculture sites and learn about aquaculture techniques and tradition. If properly managed, tourism can be also combined with protection of marine habitats and UCH sites, enabling direct (diving and snorkeling) and remote (e.g. by glass bottom boats) visits of these areas. This multi-use combination shall also results in clear benefits for environmental protection and UCH preservation, e.g. through co-monitoring and management of the transfer of funds from the tourism sector. For instance, the AMPAMED (Areas Marinas Protegidas del Mediterráneo) project has highlighted the role of MPAs  in the promotion of  the sustainable development of local economic activities like artisanal, fishing and tourism.

The Multi-Use in European Seas (MUSES) project has analysed the role of MSP and provided several recommendations and examples in its Ocean Multi-Use Action Plan, particularly for coastal and maritime tourism it suggests that the role of MSP could be to:

Explore the possibility of developing multi-functional sites (e.g., tourism and environmental protection in connection with aquaculture plants);
Promote the MSP process and enhance coexistence in provision of space (e.g., for aquaculture and tourism);

Furthermore, several general recommendations are provided, such as:

  • Promote multi-use, its products and benefits by using successful projects as examples;
  • Undertake an assessment of sectoral policies to identify cross-sector needs and opportunities and take necessary measures to address barriers to multi-use;
  • Ensure that effective cooperation mechanisms are in place between representatives for tourism and other sectors.

In addition, the CO-EVOLVE project addressed this issue while promoting the co-evolution of human activities and natural systems in touristic coastal areas in the Mediterranean. Through pilot actions, CO-EVOLVE demonstrated the feasibility and effectiveness of an Integrated Coastal Zone Management and Maritime Spatial Planning based planning process.

MUSES Multi-use Action Plan

Last Update 23.02.2021