I met Bernard Valéro on LinkedIn following an article on the revival of the Mediterranean tourism sector offers the opportunity to commit to sustainable tourism. You know me, so I took the opportunity to contact him to share the existence of Ethik Hotels. We have indeed many responsible hotels around the Mediterranean!
When I imagined this new section in the blog I immediately thought of him. I take this opportunity to thank him again for taking the time to answer.
Can you introduce yourself and tell us what travel means to you?
I retired just a few weeks ago, after serving as a diplomat for 44 years, and after spending the first 20 years of my life in Morocco. In these conditions, travel and expatriation have been the great markers of my professional and personal life. At the Quai d’Orsay, I alternated between assignments abroad (Santo Domingo, Dublin, Havana, Quebec, Madrid, Washington, Barcelona, Skopje, Brussels), and in Paris at headquarters. The trip therefore has a very special meaning for me. Whether it is professional or private, it has always answered the need to discover new territories of our small planet, and to know and understand those who live there. I remember from all these years of peregrinations how fragile our World is and how, beyond the diversity of cultures, languages, religions, levels of development, climates, the most geographically distant people can be so close in their aspirations to a better and peaceful life, but also in this fear also shared in front of the acceleration of global warming, the disappearance of biodiversity, the destruction of environmental balances or the depletion of natural resources that man exploits in the four corners of the planet.
What was the trip that made the biggest impression on you and why?
I had the chance to make several treks in the Algerian Sahara, first Tamanrasset and then Djanet. Like everyone else I was dazzled by the wild, almost mystical beauty of these fantastic Saharan landscapes. But beyond the aesthetic shock, I was struck by the imprint left by the life which, until recently on an anthropic scale, was bubbling over these spaces. It is enough to be convinced of it to observe the geology or to admire the thousands of rupestral frescoes which hide in the folds of the region of Djanet that one nicknames, in my opinion very legitimately, “the Louvre of the Sahara”. Beauty and fragility of life, resilience of those who still survive in these regions that have become hostile to man are some of the lessons I have learned from these magical journeys.
Forgive me if I digress, but there is another trip, or rather an expatriation that lasted 3 years, which left a deep impression on me, when I was ambassador in Skopje, capital of Northern Macedonia, in the heart of the Balkans. I first experienced a curious paradox between the situation of this region of the Balkans, literally landlocked in the European Union, and the difficulty that these Balkan countries have in being accepted into the European family. We cannot say, to this day, that the Balkans are a flagship tourist destination. And yet, if only we knew how much these countries and peoples have to offer in terms of natural riches, heritage treasures and cultures as diverse as they are fascinating.
How do you see post-Covid tourism?
I am not an expert in tourism, so I will answer you with great humility. Everything seems to indicate that once we are all, and not only in France of course, out of the health crisis, that the tourist activity will resume with a very high intensity, and this for at least two reasons: the first one is the aspiration of each one of us to be able to travel again and to enjoy the heady pleasures of being able to pack a suitcase, it is a question of freedom that will be difficult to restrain when the time comes. The second reason is economic. For more than a year now, the tourism sector has been at a standstill everywhere. This means millions of unemployed people, deprived of resources and plunged into a distress all the more severe as in some countries of the South tourism is a central activity for their economy. This being said, I think that this time of abstinence from tourism will have had the virtue of encouraging the advancement of a collective reflection on sustainable tourism: overtourism, responsible and solidarity tourism, the debate on cruises, “slow tourism”, are all themes that tend to take their place in the reflections and work on the tourism of tomorrow, while they are increasingly attracting the attention of the many players in the tourism ecosystem. This is a good thing and we must continue this work of training, information, collective reflection and even questioning. It is a slow and complicated process but, more than ever, minds and mentalities are evolving and changing all over the world.
What is your next vacation destination?
My next project is to “do” the Way of Santiago de Compostela, starting from Malaga in the South of Andalusia. It is a less known and less frequented path than others. My objective is to find myself after such a long absence ….
A book to advise us that we could slip into our suitcase this summer?
I would recommend a favorite, the delicious little book “Serbia, Balkan mythologies”, by Gaelle Perio, in the collection “l’âme des peuples”, published by “Nevicata”. It should make you want to go elsewhere, and travel rather than tourism.