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Member of the European Commission
4th European Tourism Forum
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for inviting me to this European Tourism Forum. It is always a pleasure to come back to Malta, my home country. I would also like to think that Malta is an ideal place to discuss the future of European tourism given that Malta almost trebles its population annually, welcoming visitors from around the globe. As a country enjoying a temperate climate, combining a rich history with the oft-required ‘holiday ingredients’ of sun, sand and sea, I trust that Malta has served as an appropriate location for your discussions over the past few days.
This Forum has provided you with an opportunity to look into issues that must necessarily constitute the focus of stakeholders well into the future. I understand that your discussions have clearly shown that, while European countries offer some of the best tourist attractions in the world, there is consensus on the need to ensure the sustainable development of this important sector in order to see to it that it remains both viable and competitive.
Tourism is one of today’s industries which is growing at an extremely fast pace. It is also a sector with a lot of potential given that more and more people are choosing organised leisure activities over the less frequent and less structured leisure of the past. Airlines are also becoming cheaper and the world, in general, as is often said, is becoming a ‘smaller’ place. As this demand for leisure activities increases, so too does the level of employment associated with it. In many regions of the world this employment represents an extremely important source of jobs. This is clearly the case for Europe and this is why within the EU we are working towards promoting sustainable tourism.
Having set this context of leisure, the service industry and employment, you may understandably be asking yourselves why I, Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs am addressing you today?
To answer this, allow me a few moments to provide an overview of my responsibilities in respect of maritime affairs within the European Commission. In so doing I hope to also shed some light on how tourism, especially coastal and marine tourism, is closely interconnected therewith.
When defining the new portfolio of Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, President Barroso had in mind the creation of an all-encompassing maritime policy for the Union.
This is now beginning to take shape. A Steering Group of seven Commissioners whose portfolios are related in some way or another with maritime affairs, has been set up under my chairmanship. Indeed, Commissioner Verheugen who addressed this Conference only yesterday and who takes the lead in the Commission on areas of Tourism is a key player within this. This group provides guidance to an inter-disciplinary Task Force that has been drawn from representatives of the various Services that have an interest in this Maritime Policy. For the first time in the history of the European Union, the sea as a whole has become the subject of specific focus and the promotion of Europe’s maritime dimension, a political priority for the Commission.
A Green Paper, or consultative document, on a future Maritime Policy for the Union is to be adopted by the Commission in the first half of 2006. I augur that this will constitute a first step towards a wide, public debate on an all-embracing EU Maritime Policy. A number of contributions have already been received from various stakeholders and consultations have taken place with countries who are a step ahead in this field and who have already developed, or are developing, similar all-encompassing maritime policies of their own.
The sea-based activities to be incorporated into this proposed Maritime Policy cover a broad range of sectors such as shipbuilding and maritime transport; fisheries and aquaculture; offshore oil and gas drilling; wind, tidal and wave energy; biotechnology; and last but not by any means least, coastal and marine tourism.
These new developments are particularly relevant within the context of the Lisbon Strategy which, as you know, is designed to promote Europe’s growth potential and employment, whilst simultaneously renewing its competitiveness, productivity and social cohesion. Yet to achieve these objectives the Union must mobilise all its resources, both present and future, including those of the oceans and seas.
Given today’s international environment, whereby globalisation is a driving force, the demands on the oceans and seas for various uses and applications are on the increase. Maritime activities have therefore assumed an importance, to the European Union, of more critical proportions than ever before.
There is clear potential for growth in areas where demand actually outstrips supply, such as aquaculture (namely fish farming and sea ranching). There is also sustained growth in the shipping, transport and port industry, as well as in all sectors associated with these activities, due to the expanding trade with other regions of the world, most especially Asia. There is also today an increasingly acute need for more off-shore oil and gas and for new sources of energy, including renewables. Again, there is potential for developing a biotechnology industry in Europe, exploring marine biodiversity and genetic resources, and for exploiting new potential uses of the sea.
Coastal and marine tourism is not just part of this list – it can actually be placed at the top of it.
Again you might well ask why I am saying this. Is it merely because I am speaking at this event?
My reply is a very clear no. Coastal tourism is an increasingly important economic sector in its own right. It is a focal point of many countries – 20 of the 25 EU Member States have a coastline - which is in many cases, a major contributor to their gross domestic product. Well regulated tourism can, therefore, be a major contributor to the whole economy as well as to the sustainable development of coastal areas in particular.
Like any other industry, coastal tourism therefore needs to be a quality product which responds to the needs of its consumers. It must be well-maintained, able to offer the high standards of leisure demanded and of course, be service-oriented. At the heart of this lies the case for sound management - in the traditional sense but also in terms of environmental management and in terms of the competing uses that the same product can be put to.
Globalisation, as I mentioned earlier, is a key component in this respect. In Europe we have been facing the competition from other regions due to sharp reduction in the costs of air travel. This is especially true for coastal tourism and beach destinations. Globalisation has also brought home to us the increasing need for the transhipment of goods around the world – and how better than by means of maritime transport as opposed to road or rail transport given the long distances and environmental concerns involved. Globalisation has also contributed to the development of global markets whereby fish, for example, produced in Europe can be on a market stall in Japan within hours. Finally, we have additional demands on our energy sources and the need therefore to continually search for new and renewable ones.
Our marine resources are often looked at as holding the solution to many of these challenges. Yet each of these, be it new sea routes, fish farms or oil and gas exploration, provide their own very real set of challenges to the tourism industry.
We certainly need to address these issues. Indeed, there is much room for improvement in our management style, and not only at a more general level but also at a micro-level whereby the industry needs to look at its individual operations. It cannot, for example, remain locked in the concepts and services provided since the early times of mass tourism in Europe. We cannot afford to bring tourists to our coastal areas and drop them off there, on the beaches with little to do. We need to modernise and reinvent the services offered by coastal tourism, namely by giving tourists new ways of using and benefiting from the sea.
This could mean developing yacht marinas and shelters to attract leisure sailors and other yachtsmen. Sporting events for those who enjoy sea craft racing could be another option. Marine eco-resorts, whale and other sea mammal watching and a host of other similar activities are also on the rise. Furthermore, the importance and potential of the cruise liner industry is a growing and profitable market segment which could easily be tapped. Re-inventing our offer could also mean developing wellness facilities which use the seas’ bounty in one way or another.
Our maritime heritage, whether above or below the water, is also an area with ample scope for exploitation. All too often I claim that our rich maritime culture in Europe is somewhat unknown and, more often than not, downplayed. The teaming wildlife of our seas is another area of potential exploitation. And apart from natural attractions, modern facilities, such as theme parks on the one hand and ports on the other, are all becoming increasingly popular.
There is an increasing trend for real estate development or second homes by the coast. More and more retirees choose to locate themselves in their later years in coastal destinations where temperate climates, scenic views and an easier pace of life answer their present needs. This stimulates the growth of coastal areas and provides added employment throughout the year. Tourism on the one hand, and increased coastal activities on the other, can therefore offer a successful alternative to people and coastal communities in general, which were in the past wholly dependent on fisheries. Thus, a number of the fishing communities, where fish stocks are in decline, are already doing exactly that by turning their vessels into pleasure boats linked to tourism and hosting recreational boats and yachts in former fishing boats shelters.
I need not expand any further. You know better than I do what initiatives can be used to diversify the product yielded by the seas or to prolong the coastal tourism season beyond the traditional summer months.
Yet in order to do all of this and thus increase our competitive edge, we must seek to ensure that other elements, on which the development of tourism depends, are dealt with sufficiently well. A clear example of such an element is the pressure of sea-related tourism on the environment of many coastal and island destinations. A clean marine and coastal environment is a prerequisite for a thriving tourist business. Tourism in these areas can only be developed provided it is done in a sustainable manner.
This is crucial. And not merely for the sake of political correctness. We often support environmental protection as long as it does not impede the industry’s development. I believe that this is not the way we should look at the relationship between tourism and the environment. And it certainly should not be the case when we look into coastal and marine tourism. Ensuring the preservation of the seas and coastal areas as our resource-base, is a key element for improving the EU’s competitiveness, long-term growth and employment, in the maritime sector in general and in coastal tourism in particular.
Given the delicate balance that must be maintained with respect to the oft-competing uses of the seas and coastal areas which I referred to earlier, an all-embracing approach to coastal management is needed. As the Green Paper on a future maritime policy for the Union will show, this will require a move towards a system of spatial planning, with clearly delineated rights of use and even zoning, where necessary, in such a way as to ensure all interests are fairly treated.
Hence, in the Green Paper I intend to promote this growing awareness of the need for integrated management with respect to coastal and maritime areas. This is a trend which needs to be further encouraged, particularly in view of the strong urban, infrastructural and tourism development taking place in coastal regions.
Within a cross-cutting maritime perspective there are also links between science and tourism, as for example in the scientific research that is provided vis a vis Europe’s underwater archaeology. Research into sea-wave patterns can also be beneficial in defining the routes of cruise ships for maximum comfort to passengers.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As you can see the work underway within the European Commission with respect to Maritime Affairs is both broad in its scope and based on a clear understanding of the value of the oceans and seas to Europe, their future potential and the risks and challenges attached to them. Any further development in our work will require a sound analysis of the geographical, ecological, economic, governance, social and legal realities of this sector, which in turn will raise the need for an integrated maritime information system, comprising relevant data on status, pressures and trends in relation to the economic, social and environmental dimensions of our seas and oceans.
To make the most of the interdependency between different sectors involved in maritime affairs, we need to exploit synergies and avoid inconsistencies. It is only in this manner that a maritime policy can help maximise the benefits that Europe can draw from ocean and sea-related activities.
A maritime policy for the European Union would aim to identify, co-ordinate and implement sea-related measures to optimise economic and recreational returns from the sea, in a participative and sustainable manner. In its preparation, we are also looking for answers on the best approach to maritime issues at the European, national, regional and local level. This means finding the most appropriate institutional, operational and financial frameworks to realise our visions for the oceans and the seas.
I trust my presence here today has served to demonstrate that there are many common issues on which the co-operation of stakeholders from the tourism and other maritime sectors is necessary. In this vein, I should also like to count on the fact that you will take up this invitation, that I now extend to you, to become part of this process.
An essential part of the purpose of the Green Paper is to present our findings to date. In order to complete this we will, with the publication of the Green Paper, be launching a wide consultation process with all stakeholders as it is you who will be affected by the various aspects that this policy will propose. I would therefore warmly welcome your views, both once the Green Paper is published, and indeed even now, as we continue in this preparatory phase.
Do let us know what you think, let us know where you believe an EU Maritime Policy can bring added value to coastal and marine tourism, or where simply a new, fresh look at existing issues can move things forward. I sincerely look forward to hearing your views and ideas, and to sharing in your experience of this vital sector of the economy.