A conversation with EC Vice-President Antonio Tajani

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Antonio Tajani – EC Vice-President

 

In the occasion of the European Union Elections 2014 and the change of both European Commissioners and European Members of the Parliament, Jlag has the pleasure to interview Mr. Antonio Tajani, European Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry and Vice-President of the European Commission. Elected in 2010, Mr. Tajani has been serving as the European Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry, whose aim is to ensure the dynamism, innovation and competitiveness of small and medium enterprises in the European panorama and on the global stage, encouraging sustainable growth in a strong social market economy.

Here is the official website: http://ec.europa.eu/commission_2010-2014

 

We wish to open the conversation with you on the growing interlinkage between sustainability and the competitiveness of the tourism industry.  What is the active role played by the EU institutions in sustainable tourism and what is their vision on it?

The Commission recognises that the competitiveness of the tourism sector is closely linked to its sustainability. We have been implementing several actions aiming at enhancing a sustainable tourism development and to promote sustainable and responsible practices in tourism destinations.

The Commission has recently focused  its efforts on initiatives which can provide a concrete contribution to growth and job creation, which we believe are crucial to maintain tourism competitive and sustainable in the coming years. We are, for instance, considering ways to facilitate visa requirements for certain countries’ incoming visitors, who have a great potential to enhance tourism flows to EU destinations.

We are also developing actions aimed at making tourism accessible to all citizens, including those with disabilities. Furthermore, we are working towards improving the skills of tourism professionals, with the aim of preparing the sector to offer new services and to use resources in the most efficient manner.

It is clear that to be sustainable, tourism must meet the needs of society, and preserve the environment and cultural heritage it depends upon. We believe that we are moving in this direction.

The European Charter for a Sustainable and Responsible Tourism, along with ETIS, the European Tourism Indicators System for Sustainable Management at Destination Level represent the two main vehicles for sustainable tourism in Europe. How are they performing? What are the strengths and weaknesses of these operational tools and what are the EU expectations from their implementation?

My services have been working for several months on the elaboration of the European Charter for a Sustainable and Responsible Tourism, together with experts and relevant stakeholders. The aim of the Charter is to set basic principles for a sustainable and responsible tourism. We expect national, regional and local authorities, together with tourism enterprises and the tourists themselves, to adopt and apply these principles in all their activities. The Charter should be published next year.

The European Tourism Indicators System (ETIS)[1] is instead already in place since February 2013, although still in its pilot phase. It is a practical and flexible tool for local authorities and enterprises, aimed at measuring the performances and the sustainable management of tourism services. There has been a big interest in this tool. Around 100 destinations from all Europe have volunteered and are currently testing the system. After the testing phase, we will make the necessary adjustments and we will promote the use of such an instrument in as many destinations as possible.

A new memorandum of understanding was signed on November 26th 2013 by the UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova and UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai, to strengthen cooperation and partnerships related to sustainable tourism programmes, initiatives and actions. What is, in your opinion, the effect of this new memorandum on European policies in sustainable tourism? Do you foresee any future collaboration and joint-work between the EU and the main International organisations on sustainable tourism?

We have been actively cooperating for several years with UNWTO and UNESCO as well as with UNEP and other international organisations in the field of sustainable tourism. Recently, the Commission has co-financed and prepared together with UNWTO the guidebook on “Sustainable Tourism for Development”[2]. The guidebook reflects on the global role of tourism as an engine for development, trade in services, job creation and poverty reduction. In 2012, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed in Merida between the European Commission and UNWTO. The Memorandum has set a number of fields of cooperation among the two institutions, including sustainable and ethical tourism.

The recent agreement between UNESCO and UNWTO confirms the big potential of natural and cultural heritage for developing tourism. We welcome the signature of this memorandum and we look for closer cooperation with both organisations.

The EU global action on sustainable tourism is not limited to cooperation with international organisations. The European Commission signed several cooperation agreements in this field with a number of third countries, including China, Vietnam, Russia, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Israel. This confirms that there is at global level an increasing will to exchange best practices for a sustainable tourism and to undertake common actions aimed at favouring a responsible development of the sector.

According to the New European Travel Commission European Tourism in 2013- Trends and Reports Q3 2013, European inbound tourism grew by 3.7% in 2013, and it is expected to grow 4.5% in 2015. As a clear sign of rebound, how can this direct framework be efficiently used and exploited by national governments, regional authorities and public administrations, to create high-quality jobs in the tourism industry? Can you provide us with some good lessons and cases from the member states?

Tourism is the third largest sector in the EU with a broad and positive impact on economic growth and employment in Europe. With some 1.8 million businesses, primarily SMEs, this sector employs approximately 3.3% of the EU workforce (about 8 million jobs) and generates about 2.9% of the EU GDP [3]. Taking into account the sectors linked to it, notably distribution, construction, transport companies (air, rail, maritime, bus/coach, etc.) and the cultural sector, its contribution is even greater. It is estimated to provide around 8.5% of all jobs (approximately 18.8 million people employed) and to generate about 7.9% of the European Union’s GDP.

Despite increasing competition, the EU has managed to remain the world’s No 1 tourist destination, with 404 million international arrivals in 2012, and with an increase by 4% in the first months of 2013. Growth has continued even during the economic downturn, showing the resilience of the sector.

On the other hand, it is true that competition from traditional destinations and emerging economies is becoming more challenging. Therefore, we believe that it is essential to increase the quality of our services, diversify the offer, and expand our customer base, including in a more regular manner tourists from emerging third countries, and European tourists thus far marginalised. I am thinking about older people, tourists with disabilities, students or people with lower incomes. We have set up projects aimed at favouring the access of these categories to tourism services. We also believe that this can help the sector become more sustainable, overcoming the key problem of excessive seasonality.

Mr. Tajani,  last question: your mandate is about to end. By looking back at your annual activities and achievements, what do you consider the major, most meaningful and most impactful results you have accomplished in the area of sustainable tourism? What are the challenges ahead and what are the lessons-learned?

I am particularly proud of the European Destinations of Excellence (EDEN)[4] initiative which aims at giving visibility to small, non-traditional tourism destinations, and rewarding sustainable forms of tourism. 119 destinations have been already awarded with the EDEN prize. I am glad to say that the EDEN network (including the runner-up destinations) can already be considered as the biggest network of sustainable destinations in the world, since it includes a list of over 200 locations.

I also consider as an important achievement the increased visibility which we have contributed to give to sustainable transnational and thematic tourism products[5], such as cycle routes, hiking paths crossing regions in several countries, transnational offers in the field of rural tourism, pilgrim tourism, as well as eno-gastronomic tourism, health and wellbeing tourism, or cultural and industrial heritage tourism. By the beginning of 2014 we will have co-financed 40 transnational, thematic tourism projects. These initiatives involve numerous partners from different European countries and contribute to diversifying the EU tourism offer.

Despite these success stories, I am well aware that there is plenty of challenges ahead, especially to convince all tourism actors, including the tourists themselves, to behave in a more responsible way, and to cooperate to achieve better results. This is of particular importance in a phase when the European economy is still recovering from the crisis, and international competition is stronger.

The European Commission will certainly continue to promote the sustainable development of tourism in all relevant policies.

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