Speech by Mr. Christos Papoutsis, European Commissioner for Tourism Travel and Tourism Employment on the occasion of the Transatlantic Travel Marketing Conference
Speech by Mr. Christos Papoutsis, European Commissioner for Tourism Travel and Tourism Employment on the occasion of the Transatlantic Travel Marketing Conference

New York, November 1st 1995

Mr. Chairman
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

Allow me first to thank you for inviting me here today to this important conference.

It is always a great pleasure to meet with tourism professionals, and to have the chance of explaining a little about the European Commission's role in the development of the tourism industry.

I am sure that I don't need to remind you that tourism is one of the "bright spots" of the European economy. For example: in terms of employment around 9 million people are directly employed in tourism, while many other jobs are created indirectly. It also represents about 8% of Europe's Gross Domestic Product.

This economic importance will continue to grow, and it is clear that the industry offers some of the best prospects for creating new jobs and assisting the economies of less-developed regions, while at the same time contributing much to cultural life and social progress.

Why then is this industry, with its vast potential, often ignored by government? Perhaps it is because of the industry's very success, but also perhaps because of its diversity and complexity.

Indeed it often seems that the only time when tourism is affected is when other policies, which have been conceived for different reasons, have an unforeseen impact on some part of the industry.

So far, Tourism is not included in the competences of the European Union. Although, as I said before, many other Community policies have an important impact on Tourism, the Member States still have not agreed to treat Tourism as a coherent Union policy.

I am constantly trying to ensure that tourism at the level of the European Commission is considered more coherently and with greater priority. Currently the EU's policy on tourism is fragmented and dependent on wider, more general policies, such as those relating to regional development and transport.

There is a growing recognition of the importance of the industry, but this recognition needs to be translated into a policy which can bring about practical, effective and well-resourced actions. Only in this way can we ensure our competitiveness, and offer satisfaction to the needs of tourists.

This process has been started with a Commission Green Paper entitled "The Role of the European Union in the field of Tourism". This document presents our views about the situation and the perspectives of Tourism in Europe and concludes with a number of options about future European policy on Tourism.

Politically this process will also be part of the Inter-Governmental Conference which will meet in 1996 to discuss the wider aspects of European Integration. A Reflection Group is currently considering many issues, including whether tourism should be given more formal recognition in the Maastricht Treaty.

The responses to the Green Paper were many and varied but there was a general consensus that the EU role should be strengthened, and particularly that co- ordination should be improved.

As tourism is so diverse there is clearly a positive contribution to be made at many different levels particularly in terms of public sector intervention.

The aspect of "co-ordination" appears as a top priority for the industry. But from my experience it seems to be an issue which has always been hard to effectively resolve, both at national and Union-wide levels.

We must look carefully at existing arrangements, not only in terms of other EU policies, but also at industry co-ordination, especially the opportunities brought about by partnership and joint working.

Naturally enough, the industry was broadly in favour of an increased competence for tourism at EU level.

There is also a fact which gives me real pleasure. Tourism is currently on every discussion agenda. Not only in Europe but also in the U.S., with the White House Conference on Travel and Tourism, which ended yesterday; In Amman (Jordan), with the 1995 Middle East/North Africa Economic Summit, which also concluded its work yesterday and also within the framework of Euro- Mediterranean Co-operation.

You will have gathered that I am convinced of the need to strengthen the status of tourism within the EU. This is however not just a task for EU officials!

To achieve this, both public and private sectors must address some practical issues.

Let me flag-up three of these, related to technology, training and the environment.

The application of technology to tourism has been rapid, especially in terms of sales and reservations systems. The continuing development of new technology to more effectively provide potential tourists with an ever-increasing range of specific products, will increase sales and serve to meet customer needs with greater effect.

Vitally, technology also has great potential as a management tool to promote the traditional tourist months, and to extend the season.

Better training of staff will raise qulity and help to ensure repeat business. Improving both quality of service and quality of management is certainly one of the priorities in Europe.

However, the issue of training is one where action is required in partnership with trade and the public sector at different levels.

I plan to look in some detail at current training programmes funded by the Commission with a view to increasing the availability of tourism related education and training.

Environmental issues continue to be of great importance as regards tourism, where development can often be difficult to plan for strategically, and where demand can constantly change.

Certainly I believe that closer integration between tourism development and environmental policy is required. Even, in some circumstances, to the point of forsaking the former to protect the latter. Because of the direct link between tourism and the environment, the only sure way to protect the industry in the long-term is to protect the environment, on which it depends. Everyone, of course, agrees with this general principle. The difficulty lies when one is faced with the tough political and economic decisions which such a principle demands.

This is especially the case today in the Mediterranean where a balance must be found between the politics of development and the limits of acceptable environmental change. Let us not forget that this area is excellent for cruises, which is a form of Tourism we should develop further.

The Action Plan on Tourism, due to finish at the end of 1995, has been the first specific plan at EU level. As such, the budget was set at a modest level, with around 26 million dollars committed over a three year period.

This has been spent on a mixture of pilot actions, research studies and projects, which as you may know included a marketing pilot project using 'TIME' magazine and the 'Travel Channel' here in the States.

Apart from that major project, which was about raising general awareness of Europe, and would have benefitted from greater co-ordination, there are a number of other projects which have also helped to develop the US market, and which also show the variety of the work undertaken under the Plan.

In fact, the Action Plan identified the US and Japan as priority markets for the touristic promotion of Europe.

Almost 8.5 million Americans visit Europe every year. These tourists demand value for their money; and they want their security guaranteed. In terms of destinations they still favour those related to culture and history, notably interesting cities.

There, as you all know, Europe has much to offer. From the Parthenon to Stonehenge, from Stockholm to Madrid. We are currently financing a number of pilot projects relating to cultural Tourism.

Another project which has developed a very specific American market segment has been the 'Routes to the Roots' project. This was supported to encourage the development of European cultural tourism products.

Recognising that many Americans have not too distant links with the 'Old Continent', the project has developed packages which provide trips for American visitors who wish to trace their 19th Century ancestry.

Cultural trips of between one and five nights, which can be built into standard holiday trips, together with other more demanding study trips, are being developed and packaged through US tour operators.

Marketing of other destinations, notably cities as diverse as Glasgow and Graz, Lyon and Lisbon, was developed under the 'Art Cities In Europe' project.

This networked a host of cities and has used existing distribution channels for direct sales of both accommodation and events at these destinations. The project has served to increase choice, especially in terms of marketing less well known cities, which will clearly enable more of Europe to be enjoyed by a repeat market growing in sophistication.

There are many other areas where Commission programmes have great significance for tourism. For example, tourism development funding under the Structural Funds will amount to almost 4.000 million dollars in the next five years.

Let me however illustrate these wider issues by two other examples:

Firstly, the lifting of visa requirements for travel between EU countries would clearly make travel between countries cheaper, easier and more attractive. If this were a simple thing to achieve, it would have been done before. It is not simple, but great steps have already been taken on the subject of cross-border controls through the Schengen agreement. Commission proposals on the visa question are currently on the European Council's table for consideration.

Secondly, whatever you feel personally about the introduction of the Single European currency, the fact is that it would transform tourism for the average American visitor to Europe, making his or her visit far easier, not to mention less expensive, in currency transactions alone. Add to this the potential for a more stable exchange rate, and one wonders why the industry isn't already lobbying harder for this change!

Ladies and Gentlemen, I hope that what I have said has given you a fair picture of what the Commission has achieved and what path we wish to tread in the future.

Many of the actions under the Plan have sought to influence the US market and I hope that we can continue to develop similar opportunities in the future, in partnership with both the trade and the public sector.

A more coherent European tourism policy, together with a programme of relevant and well-resourced measures, will help the industry to achieve its enormous potential and will have a considerable and positive impact on European life and economy. I trust that you are supportive of these aims and I thank you for being such an attentive audience today.



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