Opening speech - High-level conference on Tourism
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Thank you for coming here today, to our citizens’ Parliament, to mark International Tourism Day.
Your presence here, along with leading representatives of international, European and local institutions, of industry and of the world of training, bears witness to the importance of tourism and to the fact that developments in the tourism industry have repercussions in many others.
From the start of my term of office, I have tried to bridge the gulf between institutions and citizens. For that reason, I attach particular importance to events such as this one, which offer an opportunity to debate, to listen to others and to develop ideas on issues which are directly relevant to the peoples of Europe.
The declaration issued in Rome on 25 March 2017 by the leaders of the EU institutions and the 27 Member States to mark the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaties emphasises that growth and employment are two of the Union’s main priorities. On Parliament’s behalf, my task is to ensure that action is taken to achieve these priorities in practice.
If we are to bring Europe closer to its citizens, we must offer them real answers to one of the issues which worries them the most: having the dignity and freedom which a job brings.
A competitive tourist industry which creates jobs
We must make sure that no-one is left behind, least of all those who may not be able to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the technological and industrial revolution, which is transforming the way products are manufactured and services are provided, and which is changing the labour market and the nature of the skills which people need in order to thrive on it.
Recent studies show that the development of robotics, artificial intelligence and digitalisation may mean that in future roughly half of all the activities currently carried out by people are performed by machines. In France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom alone, 54 million jobs are at risk.
We must devise policies to govern this process of change and invest more in training commensurate with the needs of the market. Training must be provided not only for young people, but for all the workers who may suffer the same fate as their forebears who were making wheels for horse-drawn carriages at the time the car was invented.
We must also focus more resolutely on industries such as tourism, which, although affected by the digital revolution, will still remain labour-intensive, and on synergies with other sectors: luxury goods, enogastronomy and high-quality crafts, which are based on creativity and manual skills.
Politicians at EU level must grasp the full strategic importance of these industries. Today, directly and indirectly, tourism already accounts for some 10% of GDP and jobs in Europe. The clichéd ideas that tourism is important only for countries in the south of Europe, or for countries which have beautiful mountains, or that tourism cannot be reconciled with any other form of industry, are no longer relevant today
Manufacturing excellence attracts tourists, and tourism boosts industry and exports. And by industry I don’t just mean fashion and enogastronomy, but also the automobile, audiovisual and design industries. People in China who buy our high-quality products or watch films set in Europe will be encouraged to visit our continent. Americans who try traditional products here will then want to buy them and enjoy them back at home.
Tourism, therefore, is an essential part of the mosaic which makes up Europe’s industrial fabric, and it has spin-offs in the areas of trade, agri-foodstuffs, the cultural and creative industries, transport, construction and shipbuilding.
In short, it is an industry in its own right, which creates added value throughout Europe. Its combined turnover in the United Kingdom and Germany is roughly equivalent to Italy’s overall GDP.
Some 20% of the people employed in the tourism industry are under 25, and the sector is thus one of their main routes into the labour market and offers a practical response to the problem of youth unemployment, in particular in those parts of southern Europe where every second young person is jobless.
According to the World Tourism and Travel Council, over the next 10 years more than 5 million new jobs linked either directly or indirectly to tourism may be created in the EU, and the GDP generated by tourism will increase from EUR 1.6 to 2.1 trillion.
This will come about as a result of a doubling in the number of tourists between now and 2030, from 1.1 to more than 2 billion. These predominantly Asian tourists constitute an emerging new class with high spending power.
Europe, with its unique historical, cultural and creative heritage, landscape and nature, is ideally placed to cater for much of this new demand. Already today, with 550 million visitors, Europe is the world’s leading tourist destination. By 2020, the number could rise to 700 million.
It would be a serious mistake on politicians’ part, however, simply to wait for this new growth simply to arrive like manna from heaven.
Whereas until the late 1990s the EU was attracting more than half the world’s tourists, today that figure is a little more than 40% and projections suggest that in 2030 fewer than one-third of the world’s tourists will come to the Union.
Competition from competitively-priced new tourist destinations is increasing at a time when the European industry is facing significant challenges: the digital revolution, access to funding, the business environment, training needs, sustainability and the piecemeal nature of the efforts to promote tourism.
If we want to exploit to the full the enormous potential offered by the tourism sector, we must lend convincing support to the industry’s own efforts to become more competitive, by focusing on quality and sustainability.
We need to focus our efforts in four areas, each of which will be discussed by one of the panels at this event: (i) attracting more investment by making greater and more effective use of EU funding and improving the business environment; (ii) promoting training commensurate with the needs of the sector; (iii) managing the digital revolution; (iv) exploiting synergies and cooperating more closely at EU level to promote Europe on international markets, and above all in China.
Attracting investment and improving the business climate
The tourist industry faces a series of obstacles which are hampering its development. Examples are easy to find: the array of national and local taxes, both direct and indirect, which represent a greater burden for firms in Europe than for their counterparts elsewhere; the cost of transport and energy and inadequate infrastructure, such as the availability of broadband, in particular in rural and remote areas; or poor intercontinental and local transport links.
In many countries, access to credit, in particular for micro- and small enterprises - which make up the vast majority of firms - remains a problem.
One reason for this is that revenue in the tourism sector is steadily being eroded by the commissions charged by online booking platforms, which can be more than 30%.
Politicians at all levels must play their part in addressing these problems. In this, the International Year of Sustainable Tourism, we should be thinking about an investment plan which uses money from the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) to boost the use of renewables and energy efficiency. Investments of this kind pay for themselves within a few years and make the tourism industry more competitive, in addition to helping the EU to meet its targets in the fight against climate change.
A plan for the tourist industry should not focus solely on sustainability, but should also seek to attract resources to improve connectivity, airports, museum digitalisation, training and the promotion of tourist destinations. Better use must also be made of EU regional funding and of the funding available under Horizon 2020, exploiting synergies with the work of the European Investment Bank.
For example, support could be provided for the wider use of ‘enhanced reality’ projects and virtual three-dimensional journeys through time at archaeological sites and in museums, churches or castles, which would also provide an educational and recreational experience.
Think of the number of new tourists who would be attracted by pilot projects of this kind focusing on sites such as the Acropolis, Pompeii, the Palace of Knossos, the Colosseum, the Natural History Museum in Berlin or the caves housing examples of palaeolithic art in Spain and France.
The next EU budget should be more overtly political and reflect the concerns of ordinary people, such as the need to combat unemployment.
For that reason, and looking ahead to the debate on the next Multiannual Financial Framework for the period 2021 to 2028, we should consider setting aside a specific budget for tourism, as called for by the MEP Isabella De Monte in her 2015 report.
When I was the Commissioner with responsibility for industry, I proposed that at least EUR 100 million should be earmarked for tourism under the COSME Programme. Unfortunately, my proposal came to nothing.
We must also free entrepreneurs from the straitjacket of needless and burdensome red tape.
Anyone who decides to start a firm in the tourism industry should be able to do so immediately, on the basis of self-certification, in keeping with the principles underpinning the Small Business Act. Thereafter, of course, such firms must be run in strict compliance with the law.
The purpose of the Services Directive is not only to facilitate the operation of digital platforms, but also to do away with the licensing requirements and unnecessarily stringent rules which discourage people from setting up new businesses and put a brake on competitiveness.
Fostering the skills the market needs
Vocational training is vital to the competitiveness of the European tourist industry and the main factor in its success and its ability to create new jobs.
A Commission study has revealed that the tourist industry is one of the sectors in which firms find it most difficult to recruit people with the skills they are looking for. They need not only good cooks, IT experts and cultural mediators who can speak Chinese or Korean, but also professional waiters and restaurant managers.
The role of training colleges and of periods of work experience is vital with a view to providing training in constant interaction with businesses and in response to the development of the market.
Last week in Paris I visited one of those colleges which nurture European excellence in this industry: the Ferrandi School of Culinary Arts. I admired the teaching provided by master chefs, who, drawing on both ancient traditions and modern innovations, combine creativity and manual dexterity. I am sure that many graduates from that school will find work very easily and will enjoy successful careers.
I congratulate Commissioners Bieńkowska and Thyssen on having included tourism among the priority sectors of the Skills Agenda, with specific funding.
But we have to do more.
The next EU budget should provide incentives for traineeships and training by helping to reduce taxation on apprenticeships for people aged under 25. Cross-border traineeships should also be promoted under the Erasmus programmes, including Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs. After spending the winter season in the French or Austrian Alps, a budding chef can acquire further experience in summer on the coast of Greece or Spain.
Governance of digital platforms
The rules must be the same for all businesses, whether they operate with online assistance or purely offline. At present, digital platforms operate largely above - or outside - the law. Many of them occupy dominant positions on the market and pay very little tax, while transferring huge sums of money from the EU to the USA or China.
One example is Google, which is not bound by the same requirements as apply to the traditional media, as regards the protection of minors, copyright or limits on advertising, yet which brings in tens of billions in advertising revenue. Some of its advertising business control 90% of online bookings, charging fees which are affecting the hotels, which have no choice but to accept their conditions. This reduces the margins of SMEs, which therefore find it more difficult to invest and which forfeit competitiveness. These are the same SMEs that are overtaxed by States and regional or local authorities, while the digital platforms are taxed minimally in a single Member State, depriving the tax authorities of enormous sums.
Another example is the so-called ‘sharing economy’.
Two champions of these new business models, Airbnb and Uber, are among the most highly capitalised companies on the American stock market. Their competitors, micro-enterprises in tourism and local transport, have no choice but to comply with rules on employment, consumer protection, safety and taxation, and other conditions attached to licences, which affect these internet giants less, giving them an objective advantage.
Commissioners Bieńkowska and Gabriel are working on a genuine digital services market. The message from Parliament today is clear: in addition to fostering economies of scale and innovation, the EU market must be a place where competition rules are enforced and a level playing field is guaranteed for everyone.
Jointly promoting Europe as a prime destination
2018 will be the European Year of Cultural Heritage and the EU-China Tourism Year, to be launched in Venice on 19 January 2018, in conjunction with a business forum for Chinese and European operators. I should like to thank Mayor Brugnaro of Venice for agreeing to host the event, and Commissioners Bieńkowska and Navracsics for their commitment to this initiative.
I am also particularly happy that the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bukova, will attend.
2018 will provide a great opportunity to step up our cultural diplomacy and to grasp the potential for growth and employment that lies in exploiting our cultural and creative heritage. But we must join forces to attract more international tourists, by promoting Europe as a destination, in the same way as the USA, Canada, Australia or indeed India promote themselves.
By making USD 100 million in funding available each year, the United States generates parallel investment from private sources to promote the USA on foreign markets. This has enable it to substantially increase the number of tourists, yielding a return many times greater than the original investment.
Europe must do the same. On average, a Chinese tourist visits four or five Member States. The competition to attract them is not primarily between France and Spain or between Lombardy and Flanders. What tourists primarily choose is which continent to visit, so that the competitors to be beaten are America, Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific.
Someone who decides to go skiing in the Alps or on a cruise in the Mediterranean is choosing Europe.
In this increasingly competitive field, it is in our very best interests to join forces. In a way we are already doing this, through the work done by this Parliament and the Commission, in cooperation with many regional governments in the NECSTouR network and the European Travel Commission, and through the European Tourism Manifesto. But we must move up a gear and champion the EU Joint Promotion Platform that we have created, providing it with more funding.
COSME is not enough. In the next budget we will need a dedicated fund with an annual allocation of at least EUR 25 million to attract cofinancing of at least a further EUR 75 million from national, regional and local governments and industry. That funding will multiply if implemented at EU level, thereby helping to increase the number of tourists from China, the USA and Russia coming to all EU countries and creating new jobs.
We already have a set of transnational tourism products that are promoted by Parliament and the Commission: the Unesco heritage sites network, the EDEN network, the Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe and Europe’s maritime and coastal tourism, which is being supported through the excellent work done by Commissioner Vella.
Parliament has worked particularly hard in recent years to encourage the Commission to adopt increasingly robust policies for the promotion of tourism. Credit for this is also due to the individual MEPs who will speak today as the representatives of the Intergroup on Tourism and the task force set up by the Committee on Transport and Tourism.
I am thinking here of the host of pilot projects proposed by these MEPs: the preparation of the EU-China Tourism Year, and support for the European Travel Commission, Unesco and the Cultural Routes. We have also requested the Commission to introduce a European capital of tourism system, starting from 2018.
On 29 October 2015, we adopted a resolution based on an own-initiative report by Isabella De Monte on the new challenges for the promotion of tourism in Europe. The resolution highlights the renewed importance attributed to the tourism sector in the Treaty of Lisbon and provides an assessment of the strategy ‘Europe, the world’s No 1 tourist destination – a new political framework for tourism in Europe’, which was launched in 2010 when I was the Commissioner responsible for tourism.
The message from Parliament is loud and clear: tourism generates growth, employment, investment and regional development.
That is why the EU institutions must do much more to promote a coordinated approach by the Commission, Member States, local authorities and industry.
As a starting point, we are asking the Commission to adopt a strategy that incorporates and updates the 2010 strategy, and to bring forward a proposal for a specific heading for tourism in the next budget.
We are also calling on the Commission to assess the impact of other EU policies on tourism, beginning with EFSI and the completion of the single market in services and the digital single market.
It is not by chance that we have chosen World Tourism Day to launch discussions on the future of the tourism sector.
Today is a day for ambition and courage and for ideas and proposals that set major objectives.
If we all work together, doubling the number of tourists visiting Europe over the next ten years will be no mere pipedream. Think how many jobs a billion visitors to the EU could create.
But to do this we need a genuine European strategy to combine our many different measures at every level – a strategy which targets peak quality in what Europe can offer, in training, in digital technologies and in sustainability, and which focuses on the synergies generated when optimising the unparalleled historical, cultural and artistic heritage that lies at the heart of our common European identity.