Tourism is a key sector for the EU economy. It generates around 10 per cent of the EU's GDP (both directly and indirectly), and employs almost 25 million people.
Europe is the world´s number one tourist destination, with a market share of 51 per cent in 2014. Nevertheless, there are many challenges that the EU must address in order to maintain growth and boost the sector.
As was stressed in Parliament's report, presented last October, the tourism sector faces a number of challenges, including digitalisation, the development of the collaborative economy, the need for skilled and qualified staff, seasonality, the demand for quality client service.
When implementing EU policies, sustainability is one of the main concerns, and tourism policy is no exception. As we all know, failing to make sustainable use of our resources could result in a catastrophic situation.
I am from Madeira, and I am well aware of the need to balance economic development, especially growth in the tourism sector, and sustainability.
My island has a very good example to demonstrate this challenge: one of our major tourist attractions are the 'levadas', walking routes alongside water canals that supply agricultural fields. Some of these cross the Laurissilva forest, a protected area that was declared a Unesco world heritage site in 1999.
Environmental preservation has been a major concern for local authorities, as has the promotion of tourism. We couldn't have it any other way, because people visit Madeira for its amazing natural richness, and if we don't preserve it we could lose it.
So what can the EU and its policies do for the tourism sector? And how can sustainability be ensured?
First, we need a concise EU approach to the main challenges and, second, better dialogue and coordination between EU, national and regional authorities. We mustn't forget the important role that regional authorities and organisations have to play in this matter.
I am aware the EU doesn't have exclusive competence in this field, as any EU action must complement that of the member states. This means that we must take into account respect of the subsidiarity and proportionality principles.
Sustainability isn't just about respecting the environment, it's also about efforts to improve its preservation, and making sure business models fit in with local reality, and that economic and social sustainability is also ensured.
Solutions include local communities also benefit fairly from tourism, promoting fair working conditions, using renewable energy and sustainable transport, as well as waste management and supporting the creation and development of new sustainable products and services, giving special attention for the tourism sector SMEs.
In a Europe that is still trying to recover from the effects of the financial crisis, tourism is one of the keys sectors that can positively contribute to our continent's economic recovery, by generating growth and jobs.
However, this must be followed up by highlighting the necessity to preserve our historical and cultural heritage, as well as our natural richness, so that the future generations may also benefit from them.