Tourism has proven to be one of the most resilient sectors of the EU economy. Despite various crises, such as volcanic eruptions, sovereign debt crises, terrorism, and mobility security issues, the ecosystem has remained flexible and emerged from each challenge more competitive, stronger, and resilient. However, we are now facing a continuous phase of crisis, with the Covid-19 pandemic, rising inflation, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and energy price peaks hitting the industry hard.
Tourism accounts for approximately 10% of the EU’s GDP and 12% of its employment, higher rates than some other priority sectors. It is also a strong driver of the EU economy, with a high share in global value chains, making it a front-runner in global competitiveness compared to other economic and regional blocks. It has not only provided economic opportunities but plays a vital role in promoting the values of Europe by fostering cross-cultural exchange, mutual understanding, and social cohesion among its citizens.
Therefore, it is crucial that we continue to preserve Europe as the world’s number one destination, enhancing economic competitiveness, financial health, and attracting the best talent.
The EU Tourism Transition Pathway, led by the European Commission and curated by Visit Portugal, is a step in the right direction. The EU Agenda 2030 for Tourism, which has been decades in the making, is also long-awaited. These two strategies focus on sustainability, including the environment, social, and economic aspects, as the only way to do business. The challenge is to change both supply and demand behavior. Thus, we must ask ourselves what we can do, as enterprises, business associations, or consumers, to change the tourism ecosystem’s paradigm.
To transition the tourism ecosystem, we must focus on five main pillars:
- Enhance positive regulation and require compliance with strong sustainable criteria to speed up the transition towards a more sustainable future for the tourism industry and the communities it serves.
- Provide clear and appropriate financing support for enterprises and organizations to facilitate the necessary infrastructure and business model changes required for the industry’s transition.
- Encourage social responsibility among all stakeholders to prompt local and individual responses to community challenges and demonstrate that tourism can be a key promoter of solutions.
- Promote innovation, technology adoption, and data usage to improve efficiency and competitiveness of tourism enterprises.
- Focus on retaining and training industry employees, providing better qualifications, and creating optimal conditions to attract new talent to the tourism sector.
The European Union integration process has been developed through common efforts for a common vision of nations based on the free flow of goods and people. Tourism, along with other EU policies, provides citizens with opportunities to see and experience other cultures and landscapes, critical for better common understanding, which is an important “social cement” of this process. Keeping this ecosystem at the EU’s top priority agenda is not only important for the competitiveness and job creation of Europe but also critical for the common link between European citizens.