Written by Vasileios Margaras,
Addressing ‘the future of EU tourism’, the European Commission organised the 2017 edition of the European Tourism Day on 28 November in Brussels. The conference looked into today’s issues and challenges for tomorrow’s tourism in the EU, such as access to finance under the next EU Multi-Annual Financial Framework, the tourism value chain and its implications on consumers, businesses and local communities. Members of the European Parliament’s Transport and Tourism Committee took part in the discussions during the day.
Recognising the importance of tourism, Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament, earlier held a high-level conference on opportunities and challenges in the tourism sector, on 27 September. The conference addressed themes such as how to attract more investment, upgrade skills, and innovation and the digital economy in tourism, as well as promoting Europe as the number one tourist destination.
The major challenges for the tourism industry and policy responses highlighted in the above-mentioned conferences are significant to the health of the EU economy, as tourism represents the third-largest economic activity in the EU. Tourism is therefore a major source of economic growth, regional development and employment. Nonetheless, the industry faces a number of challenges and mounting competition, including from emerging non-European destinations, whose share in the global tourist market is gradually increasing. Although there is no specific EU fund dedicated to tourism as such, a number of EU sources of funding for tourism-related activities may help to boost its prospects and address the challenges.
As tourism is quite a competitive industry, European tourism providers need to engage in upgrading the quality of their products and services by improving and enriching them, or inventing new ones, to maintain their share of the global market. They also have to address the needs of new niche markets and target groups. Furthermore, the growing digitalisation of the tourism industry brings new opportunities but also poses new challenges in terms of regulation, taxation, and supervision of the legally defined standards for service provision.
Sustainability is another main issue for the sector. As tourism includes transport to the destinations concerned, it leads to an increase in CO₂ emissions. Mass tourism may also lead to deterioration of natural resources, destruction of biodiversity, or noise pollution. At the local/regional level, various challenges emerge in terms of strategic planning and management of the side-effects of tourism, such as ensuring waste collection, dealing with the negative effects of mass tourism, and protecting areas of natural beauty.
Because of its transversal nature, various policies impact upon tourism, including transport, environment, consumer protection and regional development policy. These measures are not always easy to coordinate. Tourism is also susceptible to other factors, such as terrorist attacks and political instability. Furthermore, incoherent and stringent visa policies constitute a further obstacle to tourism development.
The Parliament is following developments in the tourist sector with a keen interest. In a 2011 resolution, it made suggestions to achieve a competitive modern and sustainable tourism sector. In its 2015 resolution, the Parliament welcomed the 2014 European Commission strategy and called for the adoption of a number of additional initiatives to ensure that its implementation in real terms.