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Günter Verheugen

Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for Enterprise and Industry

Europe moves forward for competitive and sustainable tourism

European Tourism Forum “Sustainable Management of Tourism Destinations”
Algarve, 26 October 2007


Mr Deputy,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to be again at a European Tourism Forum, since it has become a true reference for tourism stakeholders in Europe.

Indeed, the Forum is an excellent opportunity for us to meet and exchange views, to establish partnerships to share good experiences and learn from each other. It is also a wonderful source of inspiration for us policy-makers to get the "feeling" of what we could do better to help tourism thrive. It is finally an occasion to raise the visibility of tourism as a major economic and social development factor for Europe and its regions. I am sure that the presence of international journalists and the decision to have the Forum works broadcasted on the Internet that I warmly welcome will help to give tourism the public attention it deserves.

This place, the Algarve is an ideal set-up to discuss tourism. Algarve, one of Europe's favourite holiday destinations, is well known, amongst others, for glorious year round sunshine, excellent sandy beaches and numerous golf courses and not to forget the hospitality of the Portuguese people. Our hosts my friend Manuel Pinho could have hardly chosen a better place and I would like to express my full gratitude to the Portuguese presidency for their excellent preparation of this event. My thanks also go to the Steering Group and my people from the Tourism Unit of DG Enterprise.

Discussing the development of tourism is pleasant, but certainly not trivial. I think you will all agree that Tourism is an important sign of the European way of life and welfare and equally an important economic activity with a significant potential to generate sustainable growth and employment. Already today tourism indirectly generates more than 10% of EU GDP and provides about 12% of all jobs. Well that is an economic sector and labour market worth caring about.

I am convinced that in the future tourism will be one of the key drivers of our international competitiveness. Just think that currently only about 2 percent of the Chinese population travel abroad. My prediction is that as this percentage increases, and it will increase, the economic opportunities will be tremendous. And we will not be alone to reap them. We must be prepared to face the challenge. I see this as one of the crucial elements of the EU economic strategy for the future - of our Lisbon Partnership for Growth and Jobs.

In this context we are very lucky - Europe can build on comparative advantages which make it in itself a very attractive tourism destination. We have a unique historical heritage, an incomparable geographical concentration of attractive places and indeed a long-standing reputation for high quality services. We must build on these assets when designing the European tourism product of the future.

How should such a product look like? You might be surprised, but not so much different from how I see a European manufacturing product of the future: a product that embraces innovation to respond best to consumers' needs, a product that meets the highest quality standards, and a product that is as environment friendly as it can possibly be. A product that is a brand of our European values.

I have shared this vision with European industries at many occasions. I have also launched policies which aim at creating an environment in which it is possible to make this vision happen. I am now pleased to have the opportunity to also share this vision with you, representatives of the tourism industry and policy makers.

Let me be clear, only our strive for excellence and nothing else will guarantee our competitiveness in the future. Europe will always be more expensive than most of the other destinations in the world. It is an economic logic which we should not try to challenge. What we should do is to aim at providing value for money. Our destinations must simply be the best, the most attractive, able to offer a product which will convince both Europeans and non Europeans to spend holidays in Europe and to become repeaters. And you all know that as transport costs diminish, this competition in today's world is getting tougher and tougher.

I am convinced that as in many other fields we will reach this competitiveness and win if we are able to build on synergies between the development of a competitive economic product and its long-term sustainability. Yes, sometimes, such an approach may require short-term trade offs. Yes, sometimes, we will have to address the challenging task of finding the right balance between the protection of the environment and the development of a competitive economic activity based on tourism. But I am convinced that those who plan with a foresight into the future will be able to turn trade-offs into synergies. Preventing any economic activity for the sake of environmental protection would be as short-sighted as any uncontrolled development leading to a destruction of the assets that create strong economic growth potential.

I studied with great interest the high-quality report delivered by the Tourism Sustainability Group– a group of 22 experts set up by the Commission in 2005 and I would like to use the opportunity to express my appreciation for the personal engagement of all members in this important group. Your contributions were crucial in helping us to understand the challenges better. I quote "Tourism can be a tool to aid or drive regeneration and economic development as well as enhancing the quality of life of visitors and host communities", but "if poorly planned or developed to excess, tourism can be a destroyer of the special qualities which are so central to sustainable development.

Ladies and gentlemen

That is why, building on our tourism policy framework adopted last year we launched a few days ago a new “Agenda for a sustainable and competitive European tourism”. That is also why this year's Forum is under the spotlight of sustainability and competitiveness. Let me repeat: By integrating sustainability concerns into their activities, tourism stakeholders will protect the competitive advantages that make Europe today the most attractive tourist destination in the world

Let me therefore briefly summarise the core elements of our policy.

First of all, we are policy drivers and we wish to support and strengthen the efforts of all involved in tourism. The concrete challenges and priorities can differ for the various European destinations and change over time. But the “Agenda” provides tourism stakeholders with our vision of what should be the common principles and objectives for tourism in Europe.

The achievement of the ultimate objective requires a coherent action from everyone - the different levels of government, the businesses, and even the tourists themselves can stimulate, support and influence tourism. They all have a role to play.

  • First, policy makers in a sustainable management of destinations. This requires an efficient structure where partnership and effective leadership are facilitated. It covers instruments, such as spatial and land use planning and decisions, such as investments for the provision of infrastructure and services

Sustainable management can be beneficial especially for new or emerging destinations, and I am thinking about the 12 Member States which joined the European Union lately: the speed of evolution in their destinations should not lead them to an uncontrolled development, but to bringing new products into the market.

  • Second, Europe needs that businesses fully integrate sustainability concerns in their way of thinking and acting.. This is what I would call responsible entrepreneurship. I insist upon conveying this view to the many medium and even more small and micro enterprises of the whole tourism spectrum. There is also a role to be played here by the relevant intermediaries – the business support services and associations.
  • And finally we all have a role to play as consumers. With each and every decision of the kind of product we buy and of the kind of behaviour we adopt we have an impact. We should help Europeans to be informed and see the value of innovation for the sustainability in the European tourism industry. An informed consumer may be less inclined to go for the cheapest solution.

We count on your experience and your responsibilities to build a structured and regular cooperation at the levels where you mostly operate – be it the destination, regional, national, European or international one. We expect you to share knowledge by communicating the results you achieve on the way, in order to build a stronger bridge between the creation of knowledge, its dissemination and the implementation of sustainable and competitive practices.

Now, let me turn to our own contribution.

Through the large number of policy fields that it covers, the Commission is a major contributor to the creation of conditions that influence and sometimes decide on whether industry will be able to grow, to invest, to make profits and to create jobs.

We have already made clear in our tourism policy that we do not intend to impose new regulations or seek to replace your efforts at national and regional level. Our objective is to support your own efforts with a value added action at EU level.

In this context, I was very pleased to see that the new reform Treaty of Lisbon last week values the importance that tourism has for Europe and gives the European Union more possibilities to help. Once we will be able to better support, coordinate or supplement your actions with the basic objective to promote the competitiveness of European tourism undertakings. This is one of the reasons why I would like to invite you to speak out for this Treaty which we need for Europe. You are best placed to explain citizens the added value it would have for tourism.

Based on our modern Tourism policy we are ready to mobilising actors to produce and share knowledge. We want to achieve a better visibility and recognition of good practices by European citizens and society and we want to strengthen the knowledge and understanding of practices that link sustainability and competitiveness in a mutually reinforcing way.

This Tourism Forum already provides a platform where all tourism stakeholders can exchange views and strengthen their collaboration on the issues of sustainability and competitiveness of European tourism. We will continue to support local and regional actor’s engagement through networks between different types of destinations. I know that some regions are invited to meet next November in Florence in the framework of an event called Euromeeting. We hope that such initiatives will be multiplied.

We will also seek to further drive the attention of those actors who create knowledge, such as universities, research institutes, public and private observatories, to the challenges for European tourism and facilitate their cooperation. I also invite International Organisations to contribute to this process.

Promoting tourism destinations is the second field of our action.

The pilot project “European Destinations of Excellence” already helps to enhance visibility of all European tourist destinations and to create awareness of Europe’s tourism diversity and quality. We have invited all Member States to select a destination which has been particularly excellent in promoting a tourism offer. The first pilot project with the theme “rural tourism” has been successfully brought to an end. And I am happy to have the patronage at the first award ceremony which will take place right after this plenary session. I am glad that the second edition of the awards has attracted even more countries and I sincerely hope that we will be able to establish the project on a permanent basis.

However, I am convinced that we could also do more in common to enhance the visibility of Europe as a highly attractive tourist destination. For instance, up to now not all the Member States participate in the EDEN project, which is a pity given the potential of all of them. The success of the European Tourist Destinations Portal is also a good basis which could be further developed. I invite all of you to come up with ideas. Each region in this world is working on a brand. We should aim to have the best!

The third important field of our action will be to mobilise the EU financial instruments. We will work to facilitate the spreading of knowledge on how the existing EU financial instruments have been and can be used to this end by the different tourism stakeholders. The opportunities at European level are already there to be seized. We were particularly encouraged by the inclusion of sustainable tourism in all three objectives of the European Regional Development Fund. This shows that the Commission and the Member-States do share the same goals.

I would also like to express my gratitude to the European Parliament for its support. Without this we would not have been able to launch the project of the destinations of excellence. We need this continued support to look into the issue how to best promote Europe as the world's leading destination.

Last but not least, the Commission will continue to mainstream sustainability and competitiveness in Commission policies.

Several existing European policies and actions can have a strong influence on tourism and can make an important contribution in tackling the challenges we face. Policies such as environment, transport, employment or research come to my mind.

In doing so we also need to take into account the specific characteristics of different territories.

One example is our proposal for an integrated European Maritime policy for which my colleague J. Borg cares. The substantial response from stakeholders to the consultation process has demonstrated wide interest and support for action at European level towards more sustainable and competitive coastal tourism. In response to their concerns, the integrated approach of the Maritime Policy provides the basis for elaborating further action to enhance sustainability and competitiveness in the sector.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The European Tourism Agenda is ambitious. However, I assure you that we stand by our commitments and I expect this Forum to help us to enrich our ideas and actions and to foster closer ties amongst public and private stakeholders.

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