Marine Research Findings of the VECTORS Project

This website provides access to the research results of the VECTORS project, which can be used to support marine management decisions, policies and governance as well as future research and investment. VECTORS was a large scale project that brought together more than 200 expert researchers from 16 different countries. It examined the significant changes taking place in European seas, their causes, and the impacts they will have on society.

Identifying the link between tourism and ecosystems in the Baltic, North Sea, and Mediterranean countries

This study investigates the role of marine ecosystem diversity/quality in determining coastal attractiveness and in influencing inbound coastal tourism in the countries of the Baltic, Mediterranean, and North Seas. An autoregressive distributive lag model with fixed effects is developed, using an unbalanced panel data set from 1995 until 2010 for those countries. Tourism demand is measured by both the number of arrivals and length of stays of non-residents in particular coastal regions from 40 countries of origin. The environmental component is captured by the number of beaches in given location and the extension of marine protected areas (MPAs). Furthermore, it is suggested to include as a control for ecosystem quality the fraction of overexploited or collapsed fish species in a country exclusive economic zone.


Deterioration of ecosystem quality has a negative effect on inbound tourism.  A 1% ecosystem deterioration, determines a 2.6% tourism expenditure loss over the 19 countries analysed. This signals that a winning tourism supply-enhancing strategy, could be  investing more on the preservation of the environmental quality than on price control.

The estimated coefficient on (fsoc) captures marine ecosystem quality. Models 1a and 1b consider both the current and lagged quality indicator to estimate short and long-term effects. Quality is significant and appears with a negative sign on both tourists' arrivals (-0.49) and nights of stay (-0.73). Therefore, an increase in the number of overexploited or collapsed species, a worsening of quality, determines a decrease in arrivals or nights. The coefficients are higher for nights than for arrivals, pointing out that ecosystem quality is a relatively more important factor to determine longer visits than more visits.


Results suggest that more protected areas are in fact worsening tourism activity. Nonetheless, developing a richer model specification where MPA are interacted with the most important economic variables, it is demonstrated that MPAs in destination countries reinforce the positive effects of GDP from origin countries on tourism demand.

The number of protected areas is negatively correlated with both tourism arrivals (-0.031) and nights (-0.035). This result may have a direct economic interpretation as protected areas impose often restrictions to tourism activities. The conclusion that protected areas are “bad” for tourism is, however, highly misleading. When a set of interaction terms between protected areas and the major economic explanatory variables are introduced, the interaction with origin country GDP, is characterised by a positive coefficient (0.05). This means that the overall positive effects that an increasing GDP exerts on the willingness to visit a given destination is enhanced by the fact that its (marine) environmental amenities are also protected.

Relevance for Policy:
  • Convention on Biological Diversity
  • Environmental Impact Assessment Directive
  • EU Biodiversity Strategy

Lead Author:

Vladimir Otrachshenko & Francesco Bosello
Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei (FEEM)
Date of research: May 2014

Related articles:

Social economic impact assessment for the future 

Ecosystem service changes in an offshore MPA

Food web change along a nearshore-offshore gradient

Food webs along the European Atlantic coast

Tourist’s valuation of climate change impacts 

Changes in herring larvae and environment 1957-2010

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no 266445
© Vectors 2015. Coordinated by Plymouth Marine Laboratory.