As promised, here’s the other half of the post titled: Sardinia Travel: Why Tourists Should Come to Sardinia.
For the residents of Sardinia, a major European tourist destination, tourists and foreigners are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, their patronage is welcome and needed. Often, in tourist destinations, tourism is the lifeblood of the economy, employing millions in resorts, hotels, restaurants, cruise ships and in the many fringe industries that grow up around the trade.
On the other hand, tourism changes a place – look at many Caribbean islands for clear examples. Once a place becomes a tourist destination, the investors descend and buy up real estate, open huge resorts, push small local competitors out of business, and often bring outside employees at the expense of local labor. Once-public Sardinian beaches would become closed to locals, real estate and food prices rise, driven by the influx of foreign money. Pollution can become a problem when cruise ships arrive, dumping incredible amounts of waste into Sardinia’s clear waters. Crime rates often rise as wealthy Sardinian tourists become targets of pickpockets.
Since most popular tourist destinations turned to tourism because of a lack of other economic opportunities, how can a place benefit from tourist dollars without falling to the well-known traps? More specifically, why should Sardinia welcome tourism at all?
For those of you who don’t know much about the economic history of Sardinia (and southern Italy in general) here’s a brief primer. Sardinia was once a land of tremendous natural resources – mostly underground and so spent millennia being mined for precious lead, silver, coal, bauxite, and other ore deposits. Mines and their affiliated refineries, transportation, and shipping industries employed most of Sardinia. The remainder farmed, raised animals, and fished for their living, well into the 20th century.
The last 50 years, since the end of WWII have brought major changes to Sardinia’s economy. Sardinia’s natural resources are largely exhausted and the major mines have closed. A few smaller mines remain, eking out a profit and a few aluminum refineres are still open. However, major competition from Asia and South American make continued Sardinian operations un-profitable. As the waters of the Mediterranean have become over-fished, Sardinia’s traditional tuna industry has largely vanished. It’s very difficult to make a living fishing in Sardinia. Likewise, farming, still a craft practiced by small land-holders all over Sardinia is a difficult living for most families.
What you’re seeing in Sardinia is the natural progression of a historically agricultural economy into something else. The problem is that that “something else” has yet to be decided in Sardinia. The Costa Smeralda has made a huge name for itself for luxury Sardinia travel as a high-end resort. It was founded in the 1960s by a consortium of foreign investors led by Prince Karim Aga Khan. It features enchanting beaches, luxurious golf resorts, a Rolex sailing regatta, and even polo matches. While the local economy has boomed, local residents have not been very involved in the planning and growth of their golden goose. I think this is a mistake
I believe that tourism is Sardinia’s main economic hope for the future and Sardinians need to welcome Sardinia travel. I think that Sardinia’s relatively undeveloped and natural state make it an inevitable tourist destination, especially among Europeans. What is left to be decided is whether this development will happen with the consent and active participation of Sardinians or in spite of it. For my piece, I sincerely hope it’s the former and that’s part of the reason why I’ve started this blog – to both promote Sardinia and act as a voice in its future.
Sardinia needs tourists and tourism to pull itself out of its downward economic spiral. The problem is that Sardinia is suffering a sort of brain drain, with many of its best and brightest leaving Sardinia for better opportunities in mainland Italy and in the rest of Europe. How can Sardinia change this? By investing in Sardinia tourism and creating jobs for these people to stay.
Sardinians need to become involved in the future of their island if they’re going to reap the benefits of Sardinian tourism. There’s no real way to force entrepreneurism, but in my opinion (humble as it is) that’s the way it’s got to be.
Ok – I waxed on a bit longer than I anticipated, hope you enjoyed the post.