Tourism, Europe’s key asset, should be given priority, stakeholders say

Beach and boat in Paleokastritsa, on Corfu island, Greece. [Balate Dorin/Shutterstock]

Tourism is one of Europe’s biggest assets and should therefore be more prioritised, MEPs, ministers and European Commission officials said at a recent EURACTIV event. They agreed the biggest opportunities are in sustainability, supporting local economies and improving communities around Europe.

“There is no petrol here,” MEP Ines Ayala Sender told the event, which discussed tourism in Europe. “But there is tourism.”

Tourism is a vital part of the EU economy, impacting one-fifth of EU jobs (direct and indirect). Although Europe is the world’s leading tourist destination, this is not being made a priority by the EU, said another MEP, Claudia Tapardel.

“Tourism is the biggest investment in our future,” she commented. “This is the right moment to prioritise tourism if we want to continue to lead.”

Tapardel, Sender and Greek Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura all agreed that with the upcoming European elections in May, it is time to push for a new policy, budgets, incentives and sustainability strategies.

“It’s the third biggest industrial sector, the most resilient in the last decade and it’s growing every year,” said Antti Peltomaki, deputy director general at the Commission’s DG Grow, which is in charge of tourism.

Even though tourism is linked to every industry and the benefits are shown to spread quickly, Peltomaki said tourism was very underestimated by the EU and more players around tourism are needed.

Greek Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura during the event. [EURACTIV]

Kountoura has first-hand experience with the impact tourism can have on the economy. She has seen how it has benefited Greece during the economic crisis and how specific programmes have helped local communities grow sustainably.

“It has the power to transform societies,” she said.

The panel insisted that tourism will bring Europe and the world together because it facilitates the understanding and appreciation of new and different cultures and helps create a European identity.

Yet the growth of tourism in Europe is not without challenges. But those challenges, Tapardel said, can become opportunities, and the biggest of them is sustainable development, as tourism involves transport and has a considerable environmental impact.

There is a responsibility for sustainability and incentives from the EU will help reduce carbon emissions and improve local technology, said Jane Ashton, director of sustainability for travel company TUI. Europe can be the frontrunner of sustainability if the EU can provide the resources, said Kountoura.

Another challenge and potential opportunity is community involvement. Tourism is only successful if people have healthy working conditions with vacation days and a decent salary, said Kerstin Howald, the tourism sector secretary for EFFAT, European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism.

Some solutions could be in promoting lesser-known attractions, targeting different age-groups and making visible an EU-wide integrated policy.

Tarpardel wants to push for a wider variety of EU regions and countries to focus on tourism, to achieve a more even distribution of wealth. But this does not mean that places with strong historical links to tourism – Paris was cited as an example – will see a decrease in tourist activity.

Another opportunity where tourism can help Europe is by decreasing protectionism and nationalism concerns. Travelling helps create a connected Europe as knowledge and empathy are shared, said Sender

Europe has the opportunity with the upcoming elections and new Commission to elevate tourism as a key policy priority, so it gets the attention it deserves to make Europe economically, socially and culturally better, the panellists concluded.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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