To help the European tourist sector recover from a two-year crisis, the European Commission is preparing a number of actions to prolong the tourist season, according to plans due to be presented today (30 June).
Measures will include improving offers and extending access to leisure services for disadvantaged people, according to the plans, seen by EURACTIV.
The European tourist industry generates more than 5% of the EU's aggregate GDP, with about 1.8 million enterprises (mainly SMEs) employing around 5.2% of the total labour force (approximately 9.7 million jobs), according to figures provided by the European Commission.
Europe is also the primary destination for tourists around the world. In 2008, its tourist attractions were visited by approximately 370 million people, which represents 40% of total tourists worldwide that year.
Nevertheless, the last two years have seen a significant drop in departures. Brussels estimates that in 2009, as a consequence of the global financial and economic crisis, tourist activity in Europe decreased by 5.6%.
The volcanic ash cloud which covered Europe last spring has worsened the situation and the Commission forecasts that the expected recovery of the sector in 2010 will be much slower than in other parts of the world, especially Asia.
To face this situation, the EU commissioner in charge of industry and entrepreneurship, Antonio Tajani, will today propose a European plan to tackle the main shortcomings in European tourism and trigger the sector's swift recovery.
A prolonged high season
A key axis of the European Commission's initiative on tourism is to extend the high season. Rather than concentrating only on the summer months of July and August, as is the case now, the Commission supports a year-round, balanced approach to tourism infrastructure and services.
This would help tackle seasonal employment in the sector, which might have negative consequences on workers' skills and the quality of their services. And above all, having all-year-round tourism would raise the number of tourists in absolute terms.
To reach this target, Brussels intends to boost the number EU holidaymakers and visits by third-country nationals, especially those from emerging countries, such as China, Brazil, Russia and India.
Potential of elderly travellers
With a changing demography and an ageing European population, the Commission considers it of paramount importance to make older people travel more and engage in longer periods of tourism.
The over-65s are expected to represent 20% of the European population by 2020. "This part of the population, composed of people with purchasing power and free time, represents an enormous potential for the sector," reads the communication, which the Commission will publish today.
Retired people can go on holiday at any moment of the year, but in order to do so they need the right incentives, the European Commission reckons.
Tourist offers have to be "diversified", better exploiting the possibilities for cultural, historic, educational, sport, religious, health and rural tourism, reads the Commission's paper.
The Commission is planning to give additional funding to a programme allowing disadvantaged people to go on holiday during the low season. The programme is called Calypso and enjoys funding of two million euro for the years 2009-2010, with extra funding foreseen for 2011.
It supports tourist exchanges among different EU countries for social categories with lower incomes or specific needs, such as senior citizens, young people or the disabled.
The scheme is regarded as a kind of Erasmus programme for tourists, modelled on the renowned exchange programme for students (EURACTIV 14/04/10).
"The image of Europe and its perception as a unique tourist destination has to be improved," reads the Commission's paper.
The objective is that new wealthy tourists from emerging countries and established rich partners should see Europe as a unique destination and plan trips involving several EU countries in one go.
To transmit this image, the Commission is proposing a "European brand" for high tourist destinations to be used to promote Europe as a whole in international context, such as fairs and multilateral meetings.
A Web portal to promote the initiative is already in place, visiteurope.com, and the Commission plans to strengthen it.
A dedicated budget for EU tourism policy?
To develop a genuine and effective EU tourism policy, "the Commission will consider means to enhance the financial framework for actions aimed at supporting and coordinating European tourism," concludes the paper.
A new financial instrument explicitly aimed at backing tourism might be included in the next financial perspectives from 2013 onwards, adds the document.
More detailed proposals will come out in November during the European Tourism Forum. The present initiative was adopted after national ministers in charge of tourism backed the plans during an informal meeting in Madrid last April.
The Commission's aim is to help the sector recover but also to guarantee that all EU citizens have access to travel, as leisure is seen as a key indicator of Europeans' quality of life. "The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page," underlined Commissioner Tajani in a recent speech, quoting Saint Augustine.