Challenges and opportunities in tourism

Written by István Ujhelyi on 23 October 2019 in Opinion
Opinion

We face unprecedented growth in tourism; Europe needs to be ready to find ways to maximise this both successfully and acceptably, writes István Ujhelyi.

Photo credit: Adobe Stock


We are living in challenging times; the digital revolution, access to cheap travel not only in EU countries but also globally and the exponential increase in the number of travellers.

To put this into perspective, in 1950 there were only 25 million tourists; by 2000 the number of international travellers had reached 700 million.

Currently, this number is more than 1 billion. The trend is similar for the future, which is good for the industry, but creates many new di­fficulties and questions.

There are the problems of excessive tourism, the role and responsibilities of the online platforms, the ticket distribution system and an increasing demand for skilled employees.


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I see more challenges than threats, but we must act immediately. Europe has kept its place as the leading tourism destination in the world, but the majority of this tra­ffic arrives into major cities, where excessive tourism casts its shadow most.

Moreover, the benefits of digitisation, new tools such as city apps, solutions for automation and the electrification of transport exist mainly in big cities, not the countryside.

We forget that existing digitisation tools need full coverage of connectivity – WiFi or/and 3-4-5G, so we must work to ensure citizens all over Europe have access to the latest technological benefits, not only those in the main hubs.

During the past legislative term, we have maintained strong results with the tourism stakeholders in the European Parliament.

We had a successful Tourism Task Force in the European Parliament, with many dedicated events on the pressing topics we face; visa facilitation, excessive tourism and sustainability.

"Europe has kept its place as the leading tourism destination in the world, but the majority of this tra­ffic arrives into major cities, where excessive tourism casts its shadow most"

Several pilot projects have passed successfully through the not-so-supportive EU institutions. I am the lobbyist for the tourism industry in the institutions and this will continue to be my role.

One of the best examples was the EU-China tourism year which will be followed by a EU-India Tourism year.

We will continue the European Capital of SMART tourism project and the future tourists programme, the Discover EU.

The most important objective is to maintain our gains from the past term. There are some MEPs who have a good understanding of tourism policy, but as 60 percent of MEPs are newly-elected colleagues, we have to work to keep tourism high on the political agenda.

That is why the role of the Tourism Task Force and the Tourism Intergroup is crucial. Tourism policy is closely related to all transport policies, so we continue the legislative work to monitor and amend the Commission proposals.

We maintain an extremely positive cooperation with the Committee of Regions and the Tourism Unit of the European Commission.

We are currently fighting to have tourism championed in the new Commission structure and we were disappointed that none of the Commissioner portfolios mention anything relating to tourism and culture.

Perhaps when there is a new Commissioner nominated for Internal Market and Transport, there is a chance.

The sole budget line for tourism in the MFF is the main political aim for the coming year (the position of the European Parliament is €300m for seven years).

"Personally, I believe that tourism is the industry of peace and helps promote mutual understanding between di­fferent cultures and people"

We need a greater budget for Invest EU and in the Structural and Cohesion Funds. Personally, I believe that tourism is the industry of peace and helps promote mutual understanding between different cultures and people.

I think when you deal with tourism, you have to address it with global legislative and political work. If we find the proper and effective answers for the challenges in the EU, other parts of the world will follow.

From visa facilitation, through the challenges in digitisation, maintaining traditional and cultural values, introducing lesser-known destinations, with smart transport facilities to help make them accessible and new skills for those who would like to work in tourism.

The travel and tourism industry is evolving rapidly, creating more job opportunities for young people.

Research suggests that every one out of ten jobs in the world is backed up by travel and tourism. These are the elements that we need to develop in order to reach sustainability.

To attain these objectives, I would like to focus on the construction of a Tourism Academy network and put a great deal of energy into operating this successfully.

Lastly, alongside my MEP colleagues we turned to the European Commission for an immediate creation of a European mechanism for destination crisis management.

This way, we can tackle key issues, including climate change with its related weather conditions, travel safety and security and those emergencies such as that currently faced by the European and global travel industry due to the bankruptcy of leading tour operator, Thomas Cook.

About the author

István Ujhelyi (HU, S&D) is vice chair of Parliament’s TRAN committee

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