The summer months of July and August is when most western European schools close and parents join their children for a vacation trip.
Until 2011 and the start of the so-called Arab spring, a large percentage of these families visited places like Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey in great numbers. It was cheap (in comparison to Southern European destinations), it came in an all-you-can-eat combination (called all-inclusive) and was served with guaranteed north African sunshine.
Most Maghreb tourist destinations revelled in welcoming the cash rich Europeans and ever larger parts of their GDP were solely based on tourism. Thinking that the music would never stop, they invested in luxury hotels and better airports.
However, the Arab spring made sure the strongmen upholding the rule of law vanished and in combination with a Syrian civil war, terrorist groups flourished. Within a few years, Tunisia had seen terrorist attacks on beaches and museums, Morocco experienced a bomb attack on its market in Marrakesh, Egypt saw terrorists smuggling bombs on planes via unguarded airports and knife attacks on tourist resorts. Lastly, Turkey experienced bomb attacks on its airport and its tourist sites in Istanbul, killing scores of German tourists and wiping out its tourism sector in the aftermath. Though President Erdogan is keen to promise the Turks the European tourists will return, the truth is the slump in GDP for all these countries has been disastrous since.
Meanwhile the European tourists have no choice but to return to their cars and stuck the family in there, pay the obligatory péage to be able to drive on Southern highways (a nice way of propping up your GDP) and try and reach the overcrowded beaches of France, Spain and Italy (Greece mostly sees the new found riches of Eastern European families).
But all these countries also come with their own problems: firstly, they hadn’t counted on all the tourists normally visiting Northern Africa to return this fast, and thus most of the hotels have not been updated, secondly the hotels reacted by upping their prices even further and thirdly, given the attacks in Nice and Barcelona in the past few years, European tourists even started to feel un-safe on the mainland.
France knows that the tourists will come anyway, whether they are international and want to see the major cities or European and want to hit the beaches. The result is a customer service that is incomparably bad to anything else in Europe, and outdated hotels.
Italy has a system whereby the best part of its beaches are reserved for private clubs, where you have to pay a supplement in order to be able to enjoy it. There is also a so-called public beach, but if you ever wanted to know what it feels like to be in second class, go to a beach in Italy.
Lastly there is Spain, foreseen for tourism and good, but prices are incomparable all around. In Mediterranean Barcelona you can easily pay 24 Euro (30 dollar) for a pair of lounge seats and a parasol on a beach, something that will only set you back 6 Euro (8 dollar) in southern Malaga. The nicest architecture, hotels, and food meanwhile you will find in the northern Atlantic part of Spain, think San Sebastian, Santander, and La Coruna, but don’t try and plan one day ahead because of the constant rain. Whereas if you are in a couple you just go for a walk, if you are there with the family, the kids will go crazy if the rains don’t stop soon.
And thus, western European keep driving around, their cars full of screaming children, searching for a spot of sun on an overcrowded beach, just like looking for the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. In the end, you will finish your holiday more stressed than you started it.