Tourism is a fundamental socio-economic activity for the majority of EU Member States, representing about 10% of the EU’s GDP. It is a fast changing sector, in which new trends and challenges arise frequently. The European Commission has recognized the importance of Smart Tourism as a tool to address these challenges and respond to new demand trends. Aiming to boost innovation within the EU’s tourism sector, in 2018 the Commission launched the European Capital of Smart Tourism Initiative.
The European Capital of Smart Tourism initiative awards European cities that have successfully implemented smart practices, achieving outstanding results in four categories: sustainability, accessibility, digitalisation, and cultural heritage & creativity. The main goal of this initiative is to promote smart tourism within the European Union, while enabling the exchange of best practices between tourist destinations, and creating opportunities for cooperation and partnerships. So far, only two editions have been organized: in 2018 and in 2019.
1. Award categories
Accessibility: being accessible to the highest possible number of tourists should be one of the main goals of destinations. The more accessible a destination is, the more tourists it will attract. Accessibility encompasses barrier-free and multilingual services/experiences which can be accessed to any travelers, regardless of their age, nationality, culture, and physical disabilities.
Sustainability: eco-friendly services that protect the natural resources are at the basis of a sustainable destination. But sustainability is much more than this. Sustainable destinations should also be able to reduce seasonality, avoid overtourism, and engage the local community in the creation of tourist products.
Digitalization: now more than ever, digital technologies can help destinations to enhance the tourist experience. Digitalization allows tourist professionals to collect and analyze data to create ad hoc tourist services/experiences based on travelers’ preferences. In many cases, it also allows to reduce human interactions to abide with safety rules or social distancing measures. But the real challenge in this category is to combine digitalization with the human component, which remains at the core of the traveling experience.
Cultural Heritage & Creativity: cultural heritage is an asset for the destination as it contributes to attract tourist flows. Destinations have to manage and protect it while supporting creative industries. Everybody, from the destination itself to the tourism industry to visitors, can benefit from a well-managed cultural heritage.
2. European Capitals of Smart Tourism 2019
Helsinki, Finland: Helsinki is a modern city combining both high-tech services and sustainable practices. It is the second smartest city globally, only after Singapore, and it is also the happiest city in the world!
Lyon, France: Lyon boasts 2,000 years of history, and it is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The city is famous for its gastronomy and for the Festival of Lights, which attracts every year millions of visitors.
3. European Capitals of Smart Tourism 2020
Gothenburg, Sweden: digitalization is at the core of Gothenburg’s tourist offer. Digital innovations are combined with sustainability measures. Indeed, Gothenburg is a sustainability pioneer: it was one of the first cities to set consumption-based emission targets and to issue green bonds.
Malaga, Spain: in only two decades, Malaga has shifted from being a traditional sea destination, to a modern and innovative destination. The city is a leader in involving the local community into the development of tourist services.