Vice-President of the European Commission with responsibility for industry and entrepreneurship
Opening address at the European Tourism Stakeholders’ Conference
European Tourism Stakeholders’ Conference
Madrid, 14 April 2010
Honourable Ministers and Secretaries of State,
Members of the European Parliament,
Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organisation (WTO),
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I should like to extend my sincerest thanks to you for accepting my invitation to take part in this high-level conference on tourism. Your presence here is, for me, as sign of your great interest in the future of Europe’s tourism policy.
I should also like to thank the Spanish Presidency for lending its support to the European Commission in the organisation of this conference on the eve of the informal meeting of Tourism Ministers.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
My aim in calling this conference was to launch a high-level discussion of European tourism and to stimulate closer cooperation with all of the players in the European tourism sector during the current times of change:
economic change, as a consequence of the current crisis,
but also institutional change, thanks to the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009 and the appointment of a new Commission and a new European Parliament.
The recent economic crisis confronted the tourism industry with new challenges and new trends; it has exacerbated existing problems, but at the same time offers new possibilities and pathways for development.
The Lisbon Treaty has for the first time given the European Union specific powers to act in a sector as important for the economy and for individuals as tourism.
Two months after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty when, as Vice-President of the Commission, I was given the portfolio of Enterprise and Industry, I was able to publicly express my intention to take the opportunity offered by these new European Union powers in the area of tourism.
I should therefore like to throw all of my weight behind this policy.
As we know, tourism is a sector of truly strategic importance for Europe’s economy, thanks to its high capacity to generate growth and employment.
This sector is the third-biggest economic activity in Europe in terms of turnover and number of employees.
Capitalising on European history, art, archaeology and landscape – resources without parallel in the world – is a splendid challenge and one that I intend to meet with the fullest commitment and care.
This commitment truly stretches across the board, as it involves nearly all of the players from the public and private spheres:
the Member States;
the European Union;
the industry associations and local authorities;
the operators in the sector;
small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs);
and, finally, all of us, as citizens.
Today, taking holidays is a right. As the person responsible for Europe’s policies in this economic sector, it is my firm belief that the way in which we spend our holidays is an excellent indicator of our quality of life.
European society – as we know – is experiencing a gradual, but generalised, phenomenon of ageing. We must therefore be prepared to respond to this radical shift.
Our unrivalled tourism resources must become fully accessible to those for whom travelling is difficult: the elderly and persons with reduced mobility. The sector’s operators are aware that ensuring (and facilitating) travel and holidays for tens of millions of persons with reduced mobility nowadays represents a challenge within a challenge.
Concerning accessibility, similar attention must be paid to young persons and families at a disadvantage who – for various reasons – also face difficulties in exercising their full right to tourism.
As Commissioner for Transport I successfully defended passengers’ rights. The next step is to safeguard their right to be tourists.
TOURISM: A DRIVING FORCE FOR INNOVATION AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
It must also be stressed that tourism plays a key role in promoting development and social and economic integration in rural, outlying or slow-growing regions.
It is also important not to underestimate the extent to which tourism – developed sustainably – provides local economies with a lasting source of income and stable employment while enabling them to safeguard and capitalise on landscape, cultural, historical and environmental resources.
I believe it is important to emphasise that tourism, in its narrowest definition, contributes 5% to the GDP of the European Union, a figure that rises to 10% if all of the related sectors are taken into account.
A sector representing nearly two million businesses that directly employ 9.7 million people: a workforce representing 5.2% of the entire working population of the EU (a figure that rises to 12% if ancillary businesses are included).
It should be remembered in this context that the EU has an essential role at global level: it is the biggest tourism market in the world in terms of both outgoing tourists and incoming visitors. The European Union is the world’s foremost tourism region with 380 million incoming international tourists, representing 42% of arrivals at international level.
Europe is also a considerable source of tourists. To cite just one example (taken from Eurostat statistics): in 2008, European residents embarked on over a billion journeys, irrespective of the destination and duration.
Like other economic sectors, tourism has not been spared by the recent economic crisis, though it has proven its ability to withstand the economic slowdown.
The number of international tourists coming into Europe has contracted, whereas internal tourism has grown: Europeans have taken many more trips within the confines of the Old Continent and their own countries of origin. This phenomenon has helped breathe new life into domestic tourism.
The three recent surveys conducted by “Eurobarometer” on the attitudes of Europeans to tourism have clearly illustrated that Europeans are continuing to travel, even though their choices and habits are tending to adapt to the changes in circumstances.
The results of the 2010 survey are already encouraging for the European tourist industry. Around 50% of European residents have already decided to take a holiday in 2010 and the percentage of people who think they will be able to take a holiday has increased slightly compared with the previous figure.
TOURISM: PRESENT AND FUTURE CHALLENGES
The increasing significance of tourism in the life of European citizens notwithstanding, the tourism sector – much like other economic sectors – is faced with many major challenges, such as:
the capacity of tourism businesses to innovate and adopt new technologies;
the difficulties in access to funding;
the pressures to guarantee sustainable yet competitive development;
and, finally, increasing international competition.
It is clear that in the face of these challenges there is a need for a strong commitment on our part to a consolidated European framework that enables tourism to continue to develop in a competitive and sustainable way.
I have on a number of occasions already expressed my support for and my wish to see the consolidation of tourism policy at European Union level.
The new Lisbon Treaty recognises the importance of tourism and creates a specific legal basis for tourism at European level: the objective is in particular to promote the creation of a context conducive to the development of tourism businesses and to encourage cooperation between Member States, primarily through exchanges of best practices.
If I have called this high-level conference today, it is to take a first step towards the creation of the consolidated framework that will be so valuable for Europe’s tourism policy.
Today, during three different workshops, you will be given the opportunity to discuss and analyse together the possible initiatives and measures to improve the promotion of competitive and sustainable tourism in Europe.
The main objective of the tourism policy will be, first and foremost, to reinforce the sustainable competitiveness of the European tourism industry and to promote its sustainable growth in the EU. This objective is fully compatible with the new “Europe 2020” strategy launched by the Commission on 3 March this year.
There can be no doubt that, in order to implement this consolidated policy, all of the interested parties – namely the Commission, the Member States and the representatives of the industry – will have to cooperate closely and coordinate their activities.
Europe’s input will always be a complement to national measures, to which it will provide added value, thus respecting the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality.
In the light of the proposals and comments received in the context of the public consultation, I intend to propose that actions with a European or multinational dimension be grouped into the following four basic areas:
stimulating competitiveness and innovation in the tourism industry in the European Union;
promoting sustainable and responsible tourism in the EU and in the emerging and developing countries;
reinforcing the image and profile of Europe as a set of sustainable and high-quality destinations among European and third-country citizens;
finally, integrating tourism into the financial policies and instruments of the EU.
Allow me to share with you some examples of initiatives that I intend to include in the new communication that I will be presenting in the autumn.
1 - Stimulating competitiveness and innovation in the tourism industry in the EU
Improving the competitiveness of tourism in the EU is essential for the reinforcement of the sector with a view to dynamic and sustainable growth.
In order to do this, I believe it is essential to improve the socio-economic knowledge base of tourism and of the related activities, in particular by means of studies, surveys and statistics to be produced in close cooperation with international organisations such as the World Tourism Organisation (WTO) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
I attach particular importance to promoting networks of research institutes, universities and regional or national observatories, which could ultimately result in the creation of a true European tourism observatory.
There is no doubt that Eurostat’s statistics represent for us a very important source of data and I am delighted that the Commission has recently adopted a proposal for a European regulation on tourism statistics, on which the Council and the European Parliament are now being asked to give their views.
In recent times innovation and new technologies have become a key factor for the competitiveness of every economic sector, including tourism. In particular, the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) is crucial to facilitate wide-ranging and well-organised access to tourism services.
I will make every effort to support the use of new technologies by private and public bodies in the tourism sector and, in particular, by SMEs. This will involve initiatives in the following areas:
awareness-raising and partnership,
easier access to funding,
and stimulation of active participation in the various European research and innovation programmes.
It is clear that the modernisation of tourism activities will have to be accompanied by a strong commitment to reinforcing professional skills among workers in the sector, above all to facilitate the training of these workers in the new technologies; the capacity to respond to the new demands from the market; and encouraging intrasectoral mobility.
Seasonality is another significant problem for the competitiveness of tourism. In this regard I intend to provide for specific initiatives designed to promote the extension of the high season in Europe.
I am particularly satisfied with the successful launch of the CALYPSO initiative promoted by the Commission, aimed at encouraging more tourists to travel between Member States during the low season.
2- Promoting sustainable and responsible tourism in the EU and in the emerging and developing countries
As you know, the competitiveness of tourism is closely bound up with its sustainability, since the quality of tourist destinations depends to a great extent on their natural environment and the local community.
I therefore propose a global approach that reconciles the economic prosperity of the sector with social cohesion, environmental protection and promotion of the culture of European tourist destinations.
The new consolidated policy framework must recognise and guarantee respect for the “five pillars” of the sustainability of European tourism:
and cultural sustainability.
These principles must become fundamental for the development and continuation of all tourism activities: I am therefore certain that there are many European destinations that already respect these sustainability criteria.
I should like to mention, for example, the European Destinations of Excellence, or EDEN, which the Commission has been supporting and promoting since 2006.
The Commission will also work actively to consolidate the networks of local and regional destinations, encouraging exchanges of best practices and the use of sustainable management indicators.
In this connection I am delighted by the Commission’s initiative to cooperate with the Network of European Regions for a sustainable and competitive European tourism, NECSTouR, and the EDEN network of destinations on the development of a system of indicators for the sustainable management of destinations at local and regional level.
The Commission will certainly attach particular importance to the support and active promotion of the most sustainable and socially responsible practices of European tourism firms, as well as to responsible behaviour on the part of European tourists with regard to the environment, culture and local peoples visited both in Europe and in third countries.
I should also like to restate my intention to consolidate cooperation in the tourism sector with third countries (the BRIC countries, Brazil, Russia, India and China; the countries of the EUROMED region and the developing countries and regions).
And it gives me particular pleasure to announce that my services have begun a promising cooperation with the tourism authorities of the People’s Republic of China, particularly as regards the exchange of best practices inherent to our EDEN project or the initiative of the sustainable development indicators.
3- Consolidating the image of Europe as a set of sustainable and high-quality destinations among European and third-country citizens
Another very important aspect that merits particular attention is that of the image and profile of Europe. In order to be able to make the best use of the potential represented by the main third countries as a source market for tourism to Europe, it is important to enhance the image and perception of Europe as a set of sustainable and high-quality tourist destinations.
To this end I intend to consolidate cooperation by the Commission with the Member States and with the relevant national tourism authorities as well as with the European industry on the joint development of a “European brand”. One excellent initiative that is worthy of mention here is that of the European tourism portal (VisitEurope), an invaluable source of assistance for international tourists travelling to Europe on holiday.
A lot of information concerning Europe in general and the Member States in particular is already available for consultation and more could be added: examples are the Council of Europe cultural itineraries, tourist routes or other thematic products with a European or multinational dimension.
And while VisitEurope is geared more to international tourism, I will endeavour to ensure that initiatives are taken to increase the attractiveness of European destinations to EU tourists as well.
4 – Integrating tourism into EU policies and financial instruments
Finally, as you know, tourism is a very complex sector, a cross-cutting sector characterised by the overlapping of its economic, environmental and social aspects and by its close links to numerous other EU policies.
Energy and transport, the internal market, health and consumer protection, employment and training, regional cohesion, culture, research, information society, justice, trade, environmental protection and climate change, development, agriculture, external relations and competition: all of these policies are linked in some way to tourism.
I will therefore ensure that my services spare no effort in making sure that the interests of the European tourism industry can be integrated into the other Community policies and that the various tourism business operators can be properly informed about the EU financial instruments available to them (such as the Structural Funds, the rural development funds or the instruments for international cooperation, the framework programme for research and technological development, the cultural and educational funds, or any others).
Moreover, I shall endeavour to bring about the consolidation of the – currently separate – budget headings under which support and coordination actions in favour of European tourism can be funded.
To this end – in the first instance - I would like to ensure specific reinforcement of tourism in the context of the Commission's programme for entrepreneurship and competitiveness, naturally hoping that with the support of the European Parliament and the Council a dedicated instrument for tourism can be included in the new multiannual financial framework for 2014-2020.
We must all put our shoulders to the wheel and work towards the development of the different forms of tourism. I will confine myself here to naming a few sectors that – now more than ever – offer new opportunities for growth. I am referring in particular to:
wine and food tourism,
religious and monastery tourism,
and, finally, health tourism, particularly spa tourism.
This conference is a chance for us to compare, discuss and share our experiences. I would therefore urge you not to hesitate to contribute your valuable ideas in the course of our discussions. Only in this way will we be able to identify specific solutions and actions, pinpointing the main directions to be taken by the future integrated policy for European tourism.
In the light of our discussions and the meeting of the Ministers, scheduled for tomorrow, I will gather additional elements for the preparation of the communication on tourism.
Allow me to close by quoting a towering figure in western thought: St Augustine, in his capacity as a great philosopher.
Referring to the topic of “travel”, which is foremost in the minds of all present in this room, he said:
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page”.
I thank you for your attention and I wish you a fruitful and constructive discussion for the future of European tourism.