EU must help tourism industry evolve with the times
The EU must help its profitable tourism sector adapt to a changing environment and an ageing population, writes Patricija Šulin.
The United Nations world tourism organisation (UNWTO) estimates that Europe's market share in tourism industries might fall from today's 52 per cent to 41 per cent by 2030.
In order to stop or even reverse this trend, the industry must become even more creative than it is now, adding value to its services, reducing costs through smart solutions, concentrating on sustainability and nature preservation. It also needs powerful promotional campaigns - establishing a European tourist board could help in this regard.
The industry as a whole contributes to over 10 per cent of the EU's GDP. Coastal and maritime tourism employs more than three million people in the EU, and represents a third of the tourism industry in Europe.
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In Slovenia, where I come from, tourism is the most important sector in export services. It contributes over 12 per cent of the country's GDP, with coastal and maritime tourism playing an important role in this.
Seasonal fluctuations are typical characteristics of coastal and maritime tourism and represent an enormous strain on the environment and infrastructure, which is often oversized as a result.
The ageing population is an opportunity to overcome seasonal fluctuations. The elderly are more flexible, and can travel at almost any time of the year.
However, they often decide against travelling, due to health problems or because of organisational burdens.
The ageing population requires investment and adaptation for tourism, transport and other infrastructure.
Therefore, I would like to commend the commission's 'Calypso' project, which provides travel support for disadvantaged youths, families with financial difficulties and elderly and disabled people, and also serves as a way to overcome seasonal fluctuations.
In many coastal areas, tourism is the most important - and sometimes only - source of income, and keeps villages and islands permanently inhabited.
Diversifying the economy is a way of avoiding having too strong a dependency on the tourism sector, but it requires investment in people and infrastructure with minimal negative impacts on the environment, as nature is one of the key competitive advantages of coastal and maritime tourism.
This is where EU intervention can be valuable. The European strategy for more growth and jobs in coastal and maritime tourism, published last year, includes good solutions, and I think the actions it proposes will help member states and the EU as a whole.
Unfortunately, the commission has not established a timeframe for the strategy, making it hard to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of its implementation. This is why I have urged the commission to present a detailed schedule.
Many SMEs often experience difficulties financing their projects. Even when EU money is available to them, small businesses have trouble accessing it due to their fragmentation.
Therefore, an online guide with an overview of the main funding opportunities for coastal and maritime tourism - especially for SMEs - must be made available soon.
Learning from mistakes is too expensive - we must learn from each other. The EU has an important role to play. Information sharing and exchange of good practices and the creation of platforms and forums is relevant to all sectors - from efficient and effective employee training, to innovative solutions to managing the balance between various activities that promote tourism, to other economic activities, while preserving the environment.
The EU is responsible for environmental legislation, such as the implementation of the environmental impact assessment directive.
Finally, environmental impacts are cross-border, and the sea is a large and integrated entity. Therefore, environmentally responsible behaviour on the part of individual resorts or countries can easily be undermined or destroyed because of others, and this must be prevented.
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