A conversation with Ramón Luis Valcárcel Siso, the next President of the Committee of the Regions

Ramón Luis Valcárcel SisoJlag had the pleasure to interview the next President of the Committee of the Regions (CoR), Mr. Ramón Luis Valcárcel Siso, few days before his election. He will be elected during the next CoR plenary session, on July 18-19, 2012 and his mandate will officially start on the 10th of August 2012.

The next CoR President illustrates the role of the Committee of the Regions in the tourism sector, the link between sustainable tourism and territorial cohesion, the tourism policy towards Mediterranean, and the main results achieved by the CoR delegation at RIO+20

 – The Lisbon Treaty acknowledges the importance of tourism outlining a specific competence for the European Union in this field. The Treaty specifies that “the Union shall complement the action of the Member States in the tourism sector”. Which role does the Committee of the Regions play within this new framework?

 The Lisbon Treaty does indeed recognise the importance of tourism to the EU economy: it is currently the third most important socio-economic activity in the EU, contributing 5% of GDP and 5% of direct employment.

In this context, it is important to point out the key role that local and regional bodies play in relation to the sustainable management of tourism resources. It is therefore necessary to take the fullest possible advantage of their experience and knowledge by promoting local and regional cooperation throughout the EU. The Committee of the Regions has set up solid contacts with the European Commission, and we aim to develop this framework for cooperation in the coming months.

Indeed, I entirely agree with the European Commission’s approach in relation to the need to consolidate Europe’s position as the world’s top tourist destination. That makes it essential to devise a common strategy among all the Member States, in cooperation with all interested parties, and to coordinate our efforts by setting up a single framework for action which will increase both our competitiveness and the capacity of the European tourism sector. In this context, European regions and cities will be key players when it comes to achieving this goal.

I also trust that the future 2014—2020 Multiannual Financial Framework will match up to the new provisions of the Lisbon Treaty, with concrete proposals for actions in the tourism sector under the Programme for Competitiveness and SMEs.

– As next President of the Committee of the Regions, do you think that sustainable tourism can be a factor of cohesion among European regions? Can you suggest any best-practice related to regions which have delivered transformative and innovative sustainable tourism actions?

Given the difficult economic and financial situation in Europe, we have to focus our efforts on stimulating competitiveness in a creative, innovative way. The challenges that we face are well known, such as the effect of the crisis on the demand for services, the opening of new markets, and seasonality.

In this respect, fostering a sustainable European tourism sector is without doubt a key route to growth and jobs throughout the territory of the EU.

We know that we have clear competitive advantages: the variety of our landscapes, the wealth of our cultural, gastronomic and religious heritage, and our high level of information and communication technologies. We have to make the best possible use of the resources and tools at our disposal (such as the European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation (EGTC) and territorial cooperation programmes), exchanging good practices and exporting successful models.

As next Co-president of the Euro-Mediterranean Regional and Local Assembly (ARLEM), what do you think about the role played by sustainable tourism in promoting the Euro-Mediterranean cooperation at local and regional level?

Our main objective in this respect is to consolidate Europe’s image – the “European brand” – as a series of sustainable, high-quality tourist destinations. It is a question of combining all the promotion efforts of the various countries and regions, increasing our visibility and consumers’ confidence in relation to values such as respect for the environment, safety, excellence and reliability of our products and services. Those same values can also be transposed to the Mediterranean countries.

ARLEM is a unique platform for cooperation between the Mediterranean regions. Indeed, we intend to make significant progress during the next presidency by, for example, involving the local and regional authorities of the southern shore of the Mediterranean in the EU Covenant of Mayors.

ARLEM is also currently working on tourism policy. At its next plenary session in February 2013, the Assembly will adopt a report on sustainable tourism, the rapporteur for which is Ms Sabban, president of the AER. This represents a substantial contribution in terms not only of territorial development, growth and jobs, but also of sustainable management of natural resources.

– The CoR was part of the EU delegation to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (RIO +20). Which are the main results achieved and the main activities planned?

In Rio de Janeiro, we signed an agreement with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) through which we combined our efforts to give us the ability, by way of close cooperation between cities and regions, to make our voices heard in the decision-making process on environmental protection. This is another example of multi-level governance, in the context of global governance and the main common challenges.

In Rio, the CoR delegation sought to rationalise our individual efforts. That is in fact something that we already have in the European context, with initiatives such as the Green Capitals and the Covenant of Mayors: we are all on the same side in the fight against global challenges, and we therefore have to act together.

The green economy, resource efficiency, biodiversity and management of ecosystems, decentralised cooperation and the fight against climate change: those were the priorities that our delegation supported in Rio, and which will continue to be among the key issues on our agenda in the EU.

 

 

2 Comments

  1. A key factor to be understood in developing European tourism is that it is not an industry so much as a phenomenon that’s been industrialised and systemised by Online Travel Agents (OTAs) and technology providers to make money from it; often at the expense of front-line micro tourism businesses, which, as a consequence, have little effective control over their marketing in a digital world.

    Additionally, money made from the phenomenon by big business rarely finds its way back into local economies that are at the heart of it. OTAs would argue that were it not for them, destinations would not receive the benefits of visitors in the first place but with the advent of the Internet, the worldwide web, budget airlines and, now, social media, this argument is growing increasingly thin.

    Nor is there space in the digital tourism business ecosystem for marketing initiatives funded by the public sector unless they can provide a cast-iron case for market failure, as opposed to Government failure to properly manage a destination.

    All too often in the past, the public sector has provided funding for national and regional Destination Marketing Systems (DMSs), which have only proved effective in bringing benefit to the OTAs and technology providers who exact income from both the supply and consumer ends of the chain.

    Leaving aside the State aid issues this gives rise to, this practice has to stop if European tourism is to be competitive, retain its market share and for local tourism economies to benefit from income that’s currently going elsewhere.

  2. Dear Terry,
    thank you very much for your comment.
    EU does support SMEs, they represent a priority and recently call for proposals have been launched. I do agree small businesses are the vehicle for creating local impact. I think also that in many EU countries there is still little knowledge regarding Destination Marketing Systems. Good practices in the field should be disseminated as much as possible.

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