1971: From Mérimée’s trip to the shock of the tourist rush in Corsica, the Hudson Institute report in the crosshairs

Advocating to transform the Gulf of Ajaccio in bay of riohe triggers a shielding through the island. The elected officials themselves reject this "all-tourism" development project perceived as a threat to theCorsican identity.

Launched in the 19the century at the instigation of wealthy foreigners in search of exoticism, often from England or Germany, tourist activity experienced a quantitative leap in the middle of the last century, favoring an "invasion" bringing a windfall, but a source of economic and cultural imbalances.

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During his trip to Corsica in 1840, Mérimée discovered a virgin territory, rich in a little-known cultural heritage that he would help to promote. More accessible thanks to the steamboat, the island seduces with its harsh and wild nature where bandits sometimes hide.

In the aftermath of the war, the plane shortens the distance with Corsica, a sunny destination attracting tens of thousands of tourists over two summer months, dreaming of idleness, sea and mountains. With the democratization of travel, a slogan displays Corsica as "the closest of the distant islands". The number of visitors thus rose from 130,000 in 1960 to 1,460,000 in 1981.

Corsica is not prepared to undergo such a change. The time is no longer for “gathering” tourism, but for a summer “transhumance” where the beaches are taken by storm.

The civilization of leisure is now affecting the island, which, victim of success, is struggling to absorb the growing flow of summer visitors for lack of suitable structures. Both frozen in a certain autarky, and eager for openness, Corsica risks losing its soul.

"The last three decades of the twentiethe century have seen a rapid and steady increase in the number of tourists. In a few decades, tourist activity has become one of the major elements of the Corsican economy, with however distinctly different characters from those that can be found in other Mediterranean islands. The importance of these changes is not only economic: they have profoundly structured the space of the island and modified the behaviors, mentalities and self-image of the islanders. » (1)

So in a few years, the map of the hotel receptive is upset. If in 1938, almost every canton had a hotel structure, however modest, “in 1999, the map of the hotel industry is marked by a triple polarization: the coast, communication routes and proximity to towns. Entire regions such as Castagniccia, Haut-Nebbio, Cortenais, Cruzzini, Deux Sorru, Taravo, Alta Rocca, are almost entirely devoid of hotel facilities. The accommodation capacity is 420,000 beds, two-thirds of which are in the non-professional sector”.(2)

Seasonal activity if ever there was one, tourism employed 7,600 employees in 1997, i.e. almost 7% of the active population, the bulk of tourist activities concentrating on the coastal fringe, the interior only comprising 3% of them. they. “Confronted with economic realities, the specific physiognomy of Corsican culture is changing rapidly. »(3)

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A factor of modernity but also of questionable “progress”, tourism mixes populations of various origins, modifying the economic choices of the island as well as the mentalities of the inhabitants. "Tourism has accentuated the transformation of villages into two-headed structures: the old village vegetates on the hillsides, inland, while a new village in the foothills and/or a marina develops by the sea or along plain roads. »(4)

"A report carefully hidden by the state"

In 1970, DATAR (Territorial Planning Delegation) commissioned the American Hudson Institute to produce a report on the development of French regions, from which emerged in 1971 a Corsican Development Plan providing for the creation of hundreds of thousands of beds in order to increase the number of tourists from 360,000 in 1968 to 1.5 or 2 million. "The American Hudson Institute saw in the Gulf of Ajaccio a development similar to that of Miami, Rio de Janeiro, Acapulco and Nice..."(5)

This strategic choice of the State is immediately castigated by the autonomist movements which denounce the programmed disappearance of the Corsican identity. “The premeditation of economic and cultural colonization is evident from this relationship which had been carefully concealed by the State. We've understood why. The ARC in its time (Azzione pè a Rinàscità di a Corsica) obtained it, with a thousand difficulties and made it public”wrote Edmond Simeoni in particular.

Tourism as the only pillar of development is also rejected by elected officials. The president of the general council François Giacobbi proposes "a real counter-scheme". Jean Zuccarelli, mayor of Bastia, voted against this project: “As planned, the development will not benefit the Corsicans. »

“What does tourism bring to Corsica? 1.1 billion francs were spent for this purpose on the island in 1978, including 370 million for accommodation,” indicates the Memorial, estimating the value of agricultural production at 583 million.

In an island that was ironically said to be “surrounded by water and monopolies”, the development of tourism remains dependent on transport deemed unsuitable and too expensive due to the lack of competition. Carrying the threat of "all tourism" illustrated by the counter-example of the Balearic Islands, the Corsican Development Plan - renamed the Corsican relocation plan by its detractors - is vilified as the gravedigger of Corsican identity.

From 1980, voices were raised and not the least to castigate the harmful and irreversible effects of this uncontrolled and devastating tourism: "Mass tourism, the greatest polluter of our time, source of wealth, ugliness and destruction of landscapes and their soul, consequence of the rise in the standard of living, the development of transport and the thirst for something other than the daily life of the materialistic world, which it nevertheless automatically reconstitutes, descends on us... We have one of the most beautiful lands in the world, the closest to the distant islands. No wonder it's pouring into our house. » (6)

Since then, tourist development has no longer been dictated by plans from elsewhere, but designed on the island itself. More consensual and designed as a new outlet, tourism paves the way for an integrated activity of promoting local resources towards more jobs, while respecting the original identity of Corsica and its environment. Marking its difference by the richness of its natural and cultural heritage, Corsica now offers much more than two months of sunshine.

Today, who can still consider “silly sunbathing”?

(1, 2, 3, 4) Ethno-historical Atlas of Corsica under the direction of G. Ravis-Giordani. (5) Memorial of the Corsicans. (6) Alexandre Sanguinetti. Open letter to my Corsican compatriots. Albin Michael.



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