UNWTO Secretary-General underlines the role of regions and cities in the development of tourism in Europe


15421008_1490125644334950_425492849257637910_nIn an official visit to Brussels, Belgium on 7 December, Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Taleb Rifai emphasized the role that municipalities and regions play in the development of sustainable and competitive tourism in Europe.

Rifai was a special guest at the 120th Plenary Session of the Committee of the Regions of the European Union, where he addressed its 350 members on the occasion of the debate and adoption of the opinion on ‘Tourism as a driving force for regional cooperation across the EU’. Meeting the rapporteur of the opinion, Hans-Peter Wagner, Mayor of Breitenwang (Austria), Rifai stressed the relevance of tourism at regional level in terms of socio-economic and cultural development, and the need to enhance regional cooperation.
“European cities, regions and municipalities are key pillars to foster sustainable and competitive tourism. This is the moment to lay the foundations for a new paradigm for the tourism sector; to embrace a sustainable, inclusive and responsible tourism sector that makes clear business sense, drives local development and builds a sense of common future in Europe,” said Rifai in his intervention.
As part of his visit, the Secretary-General met a number of Members of the European Parliament. The bilateral discussions focused on how to further strengthen the ongoing cooperation between the two entities in light of the forthcoming International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development in 2017 and European Year of Cultural Heritage in 2018.
In a meeting between Rifai and Claudia Tapardel, Co-Chair of the Intergroup on European Tourism Development, it was agreed that two major UNWTO/European Parliament events will be held in 2017, one of which in Romania on the digitalisation of the tourism sector and seasonality.
“This will be an ideal opportunity to discuss the concrete challenges of Romanian tourism, starting with the economic impact of seasonality and ending with professional training of employees in the field,” said Tapardel.
“Romania has been advancing strongly in tourism development and I would encourage the incoming government to consider the creation of a dedicated tourism ministry to make the best use of Romania’s opportunities in the sector. Romania would greatly benefit from a coordinated and centralized approach to tourism that further stresses the links between the sector and SMEs,” Rifai added.

15356689_1490125561001625_59150839635905150_nThe European Capital of Tourism as a catalyst to promote tourism
The UNWTO Secretary-General also praised the ‘European Capital of Tourism’ initiative led by Istvan Ujhelyi, Vice-Chair of the Committee on Transport and Tourism and responsible for the Tourism Task Force Group of the European Parliament.
“UNWTO is very happy to support such an innovative initiative as it can help promote the richness of the tourism offer of European regions and cities while increasing citizens’ pride in sharing local tourism-related values,” said Rifai in a debate conducted with stakeholders of the European Tourism Manifesto and private sector representatives.
UNWTO Secretary-General also met Committee member Claudia Monteiro de Aguilar, who expressed her appreciation for the continuous support of UNWTO to the tourism sector in Portugal.


European Tourism Day: Tourism is a job engine and can help to boost a sense of EU citizenship


15232088_1476538242360357_8984766949871680631_n“The tourism sector has remained one of the leading job creators in Europe,but it can do more.The European Union should introduce a ‘European Citizen Travel Card’ in order to further promote a sense of European citizenship”,the rapporteur on tourism for the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) says.

The rapporteur, Hanspeter Wagner (AT/EPP), mayor of Breitenwang in the Tyrol, told the European Tourism Day conference, which was attended by three European commissioners, that “when they travel in the EU, many Europeans realise the advantages of being a European citizen. They discover that they are protected consumers and passengers, that they can shop duty-free, that they can use a single currency in 19 EU countries, and move freely in the Schengen area. We need to capitalise on this and do more.”
Mr Wagner continued: “With a European Citizen Travel Card, EU citizens could, for example, enjoy reduced prices for public transport and public museumsin participating EU regions and cities. We should also create a social media-compatible GPS travel app, called ‘DiscoverYrope’, providing useful information on the EU country visited and offering citizens some fun and bonuses through a European travel reward programme.”
These and other proposals, including a suggestion to create a European Capital of Smart Tourism Award, are contained in an opinion drafted by Mr Wagner and due for adoption on 7 December at a plenary session of the CoR, the EU’s assembly for local and regional politicians.
Mr Wagner’s proposals have secured the support of István Ujhelyi (HU/S&D), the Chairman of the Tourism Task Force created by the European Parliament’s Transport and Tourism Committee (TRAN). “To bring citizens closer to the EU institutions, we need concrete projects based on mutual understanding,” says Mr Ujhelyi, who was one of the speakers at the conference. “We can achieve that by facilitating travel for young generations with a free rail ticket and making European tourism destinations visible with the creation of the European Capital of Tourism Award. Dialogue with citizens and with civil society, including stakeholders in the tourism industry, should give us the strength to make these programmes a success across Europe in the coming years.”
Patrick Torrent, President of NECSTouR (Network of European Regions for Competitive and Sustainable Tourism), who also supports the CoR own-initiative opinion underscored the importance of concerted cooperation between all levels of government and the European tourism industry.
He said: “Joint promotionis an opportunity for regions to use their diversity in order to offer a range of tourism experiences. Smart marketing and European mobility programmes should be part of this joint promotion plan.”
Speakers at the European Tourism Day included three European Commissioners: Tibor Navracsics, responsible for education, culture, youth and sport; Elżbieta Bieńkowska, whose portfolio is the internal market, industry, entrepreneurship and SMEs; and Karmenu Vella, whose brief includes the environment.