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Maritime Forum

Cluster story: Sustainable Tourism and Cultural Heritage

With an annual revenue of nearly €231 billion and more than 2.8 million people, coastal tourism is the largest blue economy sector. In addition to being an engine for economic growth, coastal tourism has the potential to promote a smart, sustainable...


© Balate Dorin -

It’s a sunny summer day, you’re sipping a lemonade while sitting in a deckchair in the shade, staring at the sea with your feet gently caressed by the soft white sands of a Spanish beach. It’s no coincidence that this sentence has lots of s’s: sun, sea and sand are known as the “3s’s” of beach tourism.

Europe and the EU are home to some of the world’s most stunning beaches. The rocky cliffs of Ireland, the sun-drenched Mediterranean shorelines, the white sand dunes of the Baltic coast, the cold and secluded coves along the Atlantic, the lush wilderness that frames Black Sea beaches: the diversity tourists can experience in Europe is unparalleled.

The sheer beauty endowed by nature beckons tourists to Europe’s coastal destinations. As readers might have guessed by now, this story is about coastal tourism – a sector that has an annual revenue of nearly €231 billion and provides employment to more than 2.8 million people1. Further, it dwarfs any other activity in the blue economy. But, it’s not just beach dwellers who keep this sector’s economy going. With its deep-rooted history, Europe can also cater to unique tourism niches – such as its unrivalled offer of cultural heritage, part of which rests underwater, and ecotourism.

In addition to being an engine for economic growth, coastal tourism has the potential to promote a smart, sustainable and inclusive Europe2. Granted, coastal tourism has its own challenges. Coastal and marine ecosystems are as fragile as they are fascinating, with mass tourism and overcrowding conducive to a wide range of potentially adverse environmental and societal impacts. For example, excessive tourism development may well lead to destruction of wildlife habitats, pollution, waste, gentrification and social tensions between those who reap its economic benefits and those who only bear its negative consequences.

At this point, efforts to foster a sustainable blue economy will require rethinking tourism models in such a way as to boost economic growth while at the same time preserving those very ecosystems whose uniqueness attracted tourists in the first place. Dedication, ingenuity and technology, such as big data and Internet of Things, are definitely the blue economy’s allies. This was evident when dealing with regulations related to the COVID-19 pandemic, which restricted international mobility and, in turn, impacted the costal tourism sector.

The EMFF has taken on the sustainable blue economy challenge. In the past few years, it has funded several projects, including the following, that all aim to develop new paradigms for a competitive and sustainable tourism offer.

TunaRoute set up a new thematic route, building on the iconic value, rich heritage and economic importance of Bluefin tuna, with a focus on transnational cooperation, sustainability and transversal synergies. The project build on previous initiatives led by the project partners (such as La Ruta del Atún in Cádiz, Spain, and Girotonno, in Sardinia, Italy) and laid the foundations for an international network focusing on nautical and maritime activities.

WAOH Route developed the first European sustainable diving route connecting world-class diving sites from the extreme south in Portugal and Spain to the far north, encompassing Ireland and the UK, which embody common European shared values and heritage. The project built a bridge between nautical sports and marine eco-tourism, thus fostering synergies with Europe’s renowned maritime archaeology heritage, museums, underwater tourism and gastronomy.

Likewise, MELTEMI, named after a wind that blows off the coast of Greece, created a tourist route from the magnificent coasts of Greece to Turkey. 6 sailing itineraries were created, with a focus on water sports and nautical tourism. While enjoying the beauty of Aegean seascapes, tourist can also dive into maritime history, tradition, local cuisine, health and wellbeing.

Europe is rich in tourist routes that are rooted in history. With this in mind, Cargo Sail Route explored the linkages between English Cornwall and French Cornouaille, united by a common Celtic heritage, around historical and modern sailing activities. Over time, the route was enlarged to include historical trading cities as Madère, Açores and Porto in Portugal, and Bordeaux and Nantes in France.

MAGNA, on the other hand, pioneered experiential sailing cruises between Greece and Italy. MAGNA was named after Magna Graecia, the named given by the Romans to an area in Southern Italy extensively populated by Greek settlers. MAGNA’s routes were designed to follow the ancient nautical routes between Greece and Magna Graecia, with an aim to promote Greece’s and Calabria’s archaeological sites.

Not all EMFF projects aim to develop new tourist routes. In fact, a few of them leverage state-of-the-art technology to further advance the sustainable tourism industry and preserve cultural heritage.

For example, ARCHEOSub developed new products and services to help discover new underwater cultural heritage sites, as well as to survey, preserve, protect and fully appreciate existing ones. ARCHEOSub did all of that by using an underwater sensor network – including autonomous vehicles, acoustic localisation systems, and image and video algorithms – which was deployed on site for real-time monitoring and surveillance.

Lab4Dive acknowledged that technology can be put at the service of archaeology but also recognised that there might be certain situations where the work of archaeologists simply cannot be replaced by a robot. But diving in the 21st century has to be somewhat different than in the good old days, doesn’t it? So, the project developed “Portable Smart Lab”, a tablet coupled with environmental sensors, a high-resolution camera and an acoustic localisation system to support underwater archaeologists’ on-site work.

DiveSafe uses technology to make the work of archaeologists easier but, at the same time, safer. It is developing a system made up of an underwater scooter, a waterproof tablet with cameras and apps for surveying, navigation and mission planning, a diver localisation system, and wearable sensors for monitoring breathing, heartbeat and glycaemia.

T4BS leveraged the power of big data analytics to boost sectoral cooperation and greater usage of the Industry 4.0 technologies in tourism to achieve more resilient, sustainable and innovative tourism in the Black Sea region. Through a better understanding of current digitalisation trends, patterns of tourist flows and impact of tourism on the environment, the project aimed to foster data driven strategic and sustainable planning of tourism in the future and spur innovative touristic services and policies tailored to the specificities of the region.

BlueRoSES is integrating robotics and “Internet of Things” into marinas and leisure boat design, in order to enable tourists to visit underwater sites by piloting a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) from a leisure boat, ground control room or web app. This will facilitate access to the subsea environment by the elderly and young people alike, thus adding a “new dimension” to marinas and attracting increasing interest from diversified users. The project is also addressing environmental challenges, by also using its ROVs to monitor water, seabed and yacht hulls for safer refitting and dismantling.

1 European Commission (2021) The EU Blue Economy Report, 2021. Publications Office of the European Union, Luxemburg

2 COM(2012) 494 final of 13.9.2012 ‘Blue Growth: opportunities for marine and maritime sustainable growth’

More info on sustainable tourism and cultural heritage

Complete list of EMFF-funded projects

Project name

Start Date

End date

Total budget in €

EU contribution in €
Underwater Cultural Routes in Classical Antiquity (UCRCA) 01/01/2017 30/04/2018 119,415 95,529
Ancient Traps of the Adriatic Sea (ATAS) 01/01/2017 30/06/2018 134,131 107,306
Western Black Sea Underwater cultural tourist routes (NIRD) 01/01/2017 30/04/2018 150,769 120,615
North East Meltemi - The Breath of the Archipelagos (MELTEMI) 01/01/2017 31/05/2019 356,125 284,919
Autonomous underwater Robotic and sensing systems for Cultural Heritage discovery Conservation and in situ valorization (ARCHEOSub) 01/02/2017 31/01/2019 620,815 496,652
Mobile Smart Lab for Augmented Archaeological Dives (Lab4Dive) 01/03/2017 28/02/2019 428,821 343,058
On the route from Greece to Magna Graecia (MAGNA) 01/01/2018 31/12/2019 299,896 239,917
Nautical route from English Cornwall to French Cornouaille around historical and modern sailing activities to rediscover the links between the sister Celtic regions across the Channel, for cultural and sustainable tourism (Cargo Sail Route) 01/01/2018 31/12/2019 371,864 297,471
The Tuna Route (TunaRoute) 01/01/2018 31/12/2019 374,723 299,778
The Wildsea Atlantic Ocean Heritage Route: A dive into adventure (WAOH Route) 01/01/2018 31/12/2019 374,900 299,984
MedSkippers: Professional skippers in the Mediterranean (MedSkippers) 01/12/2018 28/02/2022 624,889 499,910
Education & Certification Framework for Blue Career in Water Sports Tourism (NAUTILUS) 01/11/2019 31/10/2022 964,757 771,806
DiveSafe: Integrated system for scientific and environmental underwater surveys, with advanced health & safety features (DiveSafe) 01/01/2019 31/03/2022 1,427,723 928,020
Tourism 4.0 for the Black Sea (T4BS) 01/11/2019 31/12/2021 720,333 468,215
Blue Robotics for Sustainable Eco-friendly Services for innovative marinas & leisure boats (Blue RoSES) 01/12/2019 31/05/2022 1,042,726 834,178

Projects from other programmes


MeDryDive (COSME)

BalticRIM (Interreg)

BALTACAR (Interreg)


North Sea Wrecks (Interreg)

BLUEMED (Interreg)

MOSES (Interreg)

Useful links

Study on specific challenges for a sustainable development of coastal and maritime tourism in Europe

Guide on EU funding for tourism