Luís Araújo gazes at the horizon and ponders the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead in a world turned upside down by the pandemic. On the 8th of September, Araújo was elected as the President of the European Travel Commission (ETC) at a pivotal moment for the tourism sector in Europe. The ETC represents 33 national tourism organisations of Europe, and at its 99th General Meeting, Araújo was elected to lead the ETC’s efforts towards a sustainable recovery in Europe. The sector has been affected by travel restrictions, quarantine measures, and it looks forward to receive Araújo’s guidance at a time when the confidence for trips to Europe remains low.
Araújo is the President of Turismo Portugal – the Portuguese national tourism authority – since February 2016, and holds over 20 years of experience in the sector. He has served as Head of the Cabinet of the Portuguese Secretary of State for Tourism between 2005 and 2007, and was a Board Member at Group Pestana, responsible for operations in Latin America and leading the sustainability department of the group.
Reaching the end of a tumultuous year, Araújo speaks with Travel Tomorrow about his vision for the next three years at the helm of the ETC, boosting recovery in tourism, Portugal’s Presidency of the Council of the EU in 2021, and more.
1. Could you share with us some of the plans that you would like to execute while at the helm of the European Travel Commission? What is your vision for the upcoming 3 years? What initiatives do you foresee starting in January 2021 when Portugal assumes the Presidency of the Council?
The European Travel Commission (ETC) congregates National Tourism Authorities in Europe and has been a unique forum in which public and private tourism stakeholders have been cooperating to promote Destination Europe and to create benefits for the travel industry in Europe. I feel very proud and have a great sense of responsibility in leading ETC in a period when European tourism faces one of its biggest challenges, if not the biggest ever.
Taking over the presidency of ETC during these unprecedented times, my mandate is to lead European destinations’ joint efforts to rebuild the tourism sector in Europe in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. We need to ensure that tourism has a stronger voice in Europe, through better coordination among countries, in view of a quick and sustainable recovery of the tourism sector. I aim to position ETC as the top influential voice in Europe and the world, leading the sector’s transformation towards responsible, sustainable, digital and resilient tourism of tomorrow. Being fully aware of the challenges we all face, I strongly believe that the long track record of ETC, together with the commitment of its members, will help us reconstruct the confidence in tourism and reinvent the sector in Europe.
At the same time, tourism will be a priority of the Portuguese Presidency of the EU Council. The first semester of 2021 must represent a kick-off moment to define the guidelines of tourism recovery sector in the post-pandemic. Particular attention will be paid to sustainability in tourism, skills development, innovation and digitalization of the sector. We will focus on all scopes of sustainable tourism: being a neutral carbon industry in line with the European Green Deal; a more digitalized sector, either on product and services offer and within the business management process; a better and stronger skilled sector, where we can capture and retain the talents; and fostering innovation in the sector.
During the EU Portuguese Presidency, we will work closely with the other Member States, together with the European Institutions as well sector associations, local and regional players. We have foreseen to hold three meetings of the Tourism Working Group in the EU Council as well as events in Portugal during the first half of 2021.
2. What will happen to the Travel & Tourism sector in the short to midterm? Will businesses survive a winter holiday season with travel restrictions? How?
As European countries see a surge in COVID-19 cases, the easing of pandemic restrictions is being reversed all over the continent. Governments have been prompted to re-impose curfews and travel restrictions while bars and restaurants sit empty in most affected areas. The sector is getting back to the situation we had during the spring – tourism businesses across Europe are not generating any income, while they still incur fixed costs. It is a matter of time until the cash runs out.
It is crucial now to aid and assist tourism enterprises throughout the entire travel ecosystem to save millions of livelihoods that depend on the sector. European governments should prolong state aid programmes launched earlier this year and not spare financial support for workers and businesses. The industry needs fast and easy access to short- and medium-term loans to overcome liquidity shortages, fiscal relief, protection of workers from unemployment and loss of income as well as support for self-employed tourism stakeholders. Another key measure is support to destinations by increasing their budgets for promotion and marketing purposes to allow NTOs and DMOs to prepare the ground for swift recovery once the situation allows.
We need to establish harmonised travel measures and restore Schengen integrity. Quarantines are disruptive, unhelpful and should be urgently and collectively replaced by comprehensive cost-efficient measures such as testing upon departure based on an agreed EU testing protocol (incl. a wider use of rapid antigen tests) and coordinated tracing systems. EU governments have to take a step forward and find a compromise – together with the health authorities – on practical solutions on how to implement safety protocols and restart travel operations across Europe.
3. Many travel & tourism businesses are on the brink of collapse; commercial aviation sector is struggling. Is there room for talk of sustainability? Can a restart of tourism and environmental sustainability coexist? How? How?
Yes, even though triggered by such a dramatic crisis, we have a real opportunity now to reinvent the tourism sector of tomorrow. We have been talking for too long about sustainable growth, climate change, digitalisation and innovation. It is the moment to press the reset button and take all these matters seriously by firmly incorporating sustainability in tourism recovery plans.
Now the EU is finalising an agreement on a major recovery and resilience facility to mitigate the economic and social impact of the pandemic and pave the way for sustainable recovery. This facility offers an unprecedented opportunity to support tourism and ensure that the sector helps to drive digital and green transitions, and thereby strengthens both economic and social resilience. We are advocating that tourism must be one of its main beneficiaries and should be anchored in the recovery plans of all EU Member States.
Sufficient funding is required to help tourism micro-enterprises and SMEs, family-run businesses – the backbone representing more than 80% of the industry – to rebuild their activity in a digital and environmentally friendly way with a clear focus on people: tourists, locals and workers. Tourism should be the key element to regenerate our countries and increase the global competitiveness of the EU.
4. Talking about sustainability, this week your Secretary of State for Tourism, Ms. Rita Marques, announced a new program “Tourism+Sustainable 20-23”, elaborated by Turismo Portugal. Could you tell us more about this project? How?
Sustainability is one of the goals of the Tourism 2027 Strategy, the strategic benchmark for the sector in Portugal. The Tourism+Sustainable 20-23 Plan reflects the commitment to intervene and support initiatives that strengthen the role of tourism in building a better world for all. It is also aligned with the sector’s post-COVID-19 recovery policy.
This Plan is coordinated by Turismo de Portugal but requires also commitment and close articulation among the entire tourism community: regional tourism authorities of Portugal’s mainland and autonomous regions, the Confederation of Tourism of Portugal (CTP), business associations of the sector. All of this in collaboration with other policy areas as well as regional and local public entities whose activities relate, directly or indirectly, to the tourism activity. It covers more than 70 projects and actions aimed at contributing to tourism’s response to the pressing sustainability challenges defined at global, European and national levels.
The main objectives to be achieved by 2023 are: to increase by 50% the number of tourism enterprises with energy efficiency, water and waste management systems; to eliminate the single-use plastic by 50% in 4* and 5* tourism enterprises; to have 25,000 operators with Clean & Safe label; and to have 50,000 professionals trained in the area of sustainability.
Also in the scope of Tourism + Sustainable 20-23 Plan, Turismo de Portugal signed a protocol with the Portuguese Environmental Fund to increase the skills of professionals in the tourism sector, give visibility to good practices and inspire everyone to do better, to achieve better results in terms of revenue, tourist satisfaction and preservation of our planet. To this end, funding of 200,000 euros is available, 100% financed by the Environmental Fund. Additionally, within the scope of this protocol established with the Environmental Fund, there are actions to be developed in partnership with AHRESP, AHP, Nova University of Lisbon, the Portuguese Golf Federation, the National Golf Industry Council and Travel Without Plastics, among other partners. These actions include, essentially, the re-education for a circular and sustainable restoration; circular economy practices in coastal tourist destinations; carbon neutrality in tourist developments; sustainable construction in tourist developments; water efficiency in golf courses in Portugal; and the reduction of plastic in hotels (Tourism Without Plastics).
This commitment for a sustainable future is also reflected in several recent initiatives Turismo de Portugal has taken at European and global level. Turismo de Portugal has joined the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) and the Portuguese Pact for Plastics, in addition to maintaining an active participation in the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) and the European Travel Commission (ETC).
Our purpose remains: to make Portugal one of the most competitive, safe and sustainable destination in the world, as foreseen in the Tourism Strategy 2027.
5. As President of Turismo Portugal, how would you describe the situation in your country?
The recovery of the tourism sector at a global level is one of the greatest economic challenges of the last decades. The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) estimates losses of between 60%-80%, in Portugal in 2020, due to the pandemic, figures that are in line with the global forecast. The recovery pace will certainly be marked by the evolution of the pandemic itself, the solutions developed and their spread around the world, but above all, by the recovery of people’s confidence. It is essential that fear is overcome, that we all feel perfectly safe when travelling.
On our side, Tourism of Portugal reinforces its commitment to the consolidation and sustainability of companies in the sector, through access to investment, training, markets and knowledge. The past shows us that, in four years, we managed to increase tourism revenues by 60%. I believe that we have the capacity, with the commitment of the whole sector, to do even more and better to resume the growth path, effectively contributing to the country’s economic recovery.
The whole tourism sector in Portugal has the goal of affirming Portugal as a sustainable destination, a country that values the tourist professions and attracts talent, and which is cohesive, innovative and competitive. A destination to visit, invest, live and study. An inclusive, open and creative country that stands out as a reference in the production of distinctive, differentiating and, above all, sustainable goods and services for tourism worldwide.