Written by István Ujhelyi on 4 July 2016 in Opinion (The Parliament Magazine)
Tourism has huge potential for the EU economy, therefore it makes no sense for the Commission to ignore it as a political priority, says István Ujhelyi.
Europe has a general problem with tourism policy, which is mainly down to a question of competence. Who is responsible for tourism? Is it national governments, or EU institutions?
In the EU, elaborating effective tourism-related policies still relies on national governments, despite the enlargement of the Union’s toolbox. However, there are plenty of problems with horizontal effects for several member states that require a European level solution.
This is why I believe it is crucial to convince international organisations such as the European Commission that tourism matters. Tourism can offer solutions for more general problems such as youth unemployment, as well as contributing to economic growth and reducing poverty.
In 1950, there were only 25 million tourists registered around the world. In 2000, there were 700 million. In 2012, this figure has reached one billion. Tourism is the industry of peace and an economic engine that deserves greater attention.
The EU has an opportunity to capitalise on the potential of tourism in promoting socio-economic growth, recalling that despite economic and geopolitical challenges, international tourism has exceeded growth expectations for the past five years.
It’s a huge mistake to think that those of us in Brussels are simply manufacturing laws. We must do ‘politics’. It’s disappointing that within the top echelons of our European leadership, not a word is spoken of tourism. The famous Juncker plan has been used a tool to redefine the main political priorities; tourism is not one of them.
It feels at times like the previous Commission better understood the benefits of tourism than President Jean-Claude Juncker’s institution does.
His predecessor, José Manuel Barroso, once said in a speech that; “Investments and clients in the tourism industry help countries’ recovery and bring new business opportunities for the economy in general. So tourism can be one of the keys for sustainable recovery in Europe.” He later added; “We will do what we can to support the sense of initiative and inventiveness the sector harnesses.”
Where has this Commission’s dedication to tourism disappeared to? I am very pleased that European internal market, industry, entrepreneurship and SMEs Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska and the DG Growth specialised unit, under the leadership of Carlo Corazza, have recognised the importance of tourism. They are working hard to launch new initiatives and projects. However, there remains much to be done.
We must foster more public and private partnerships such as the one I initiated last year, ‘Youth on the SPOT – Special partnership on tourism’, to create more jobs. Our tourism sector needs professionalism, commitment and management capabilities. It’s important that the industry can quickly access the necessary skills.
We should be making it easier, not harder, for businesses to invest and create jobs. This means less tax on tourism-related activities and greater harmonisation at European level.
We also need to open our doors wider and recognise new demands. For example, within the next decade, the number of Chinese tourists is expected to double to 242 million by 2024. Just last year, Europe received 3.43 million Chinese tourists, an increase of 10.4 per cent. We need to find bridges and foster cooperation between China and the EU.
A pioneering initiative could be the ‘Europe China OBOR (One Belt, One Road development strategy) culture and tourism development committee’, which was launched in April this year.
New platforms, bringing together politicians, business and tourism and culture professionals, could help fuel valuable projects. I am proud to have been involved in the creation of the tourism manifesto, which was launched last December. For the first time, Europe’s public and private tourism actors are together calling on the EU to do more for this important industry. The ‘Tourism for growth and jobs manifesto’ highlights the key EU policy priorities for the sector in the coming years on topics ranging from skills and qualifications to sustainability and the competitiveness of Europe’s tourism. This is something the European Commission and Parliament can no longer ignore.
István Ujhelyi (S&D, HU) is a Vice-Chair of Parliament’s transport and tourism committee