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Speech by Mr Christos Papoutsis, European Commissioner for Tourism Travel and Tourism Employment at the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Tourism Intergroup of the E.P.
Speech by Mr Christos Papoutsis, European Commissioner for Tourism Travel and Tourism Employment at the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Tourism Intergroup of the E.P.

 
Brussels, March 24th 1999


Mr. President,

Members of the European Parliament,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to be with you this evening to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Tourism Intergroup.

I am happy to see many old friends here, friends whom we have worked closely with for the promotion of a European tourism policy.

I want to thank all those who have supported my efforts to give tourism the priority it deserves in European policies. I would like to express my special thanks to the Members of the Parliament. I would like to thank in particular those who have presided the Intergroup, Mr. Provan, Mrs. Benasar-Tous, Mr. Harrisson and Mrs. Torres Marquez.

And I am especially thankful to Pam Cornelissen, for his steadfast support and advice. All of you have remained faithful to the cause of tourism despite some serious setbacks and many disappointments. I am convinced that the battle will be won and that tourism will have its deserved place in Community policies.

Working together with the Tourism Intergroup, over the last five years has been an enriching experience for the Commission.

We very much appreciate the opportunity to meet regularly with the elected representatives of Europe and with the industry to have an informative exchange on important issues affecting tourism.

I am personally grateful to all of you for your encouragement in my efforts to reorganise the Commission services, so that they can better fulfil their role of co-ordinating Community measures affecting tourism, and better provide essential information on Community actions to the industry.

You are all aware of the turmoil we have been through recently. I must say that I am very satisfied that now, finally, it is categorically recognised that we did the right thing to clear the weight of the past.

It was not an easy task. I want to acknowledge publicly the efforts and devotion of all the people working in the Tourism Directorate.

Over the last 4 years, we had to work for the future while keeping our eyes fixed on the past. From now on we are free to look to the future.

European Tourism does indeed have a bright future. This is something all of us have been repeating for a long time now.

Indeed, it is perhaps because there is such a widespread belief that the future of tourism is assured, that it is difficult to convince the political decision takers that development of a appropriate policy at the Community level will bring real value added.

The question is not whether European tourism needs Community involvement in order to prosper. The Community is already fully involved in issues of vital concern to tourism, whether through its structural funds, its research programme, its environment policies, transport policies, single market etc.

The real question is how to establish a framework at the Community level which will give the optimum result from that involvement and will permit all the stake holders to make their contribution to that process.

The report of the High Level Group for Tourism and Employment confirms this fundamental point. The reactions to the report have been very encouraging. It is important that this positive reaction extends even to Member States which have tended to be sceptical about the merits of developing a Community tourism policy.

For the industry, of course, its main concern is to cope with increasingly rapid developments in the market. The next decades will bring many important challenges for European tourism. Global competition will increase rapidly; new destinations will become even more competitive thanks to the liberalisation of transport and investment in better infrastructures.

New, imaginative forms of tourism will develop; questions such as environmental protection and application of new technologies will assume growing importance.

The political authorities in Europe can no longer afford to ignore these developments which will take on even greater significance in the future. With the coming enlargement, Europe will not only become an even greater single market. It will also be the biggest tourist destination in the world, a destination with the advantages of a single currency, the euro, which I hope will be rapidly applied in all Member States. Europe will remain a destination endowed with an enormous variety of attractions.

In order to fully profit from these important developments, Europe must carefully plan its future tourism development.

We need to make sure that all our actions at European level take into account the potential of Tourism. This means having an effective flow of relevant information, between all the parties concerned, so that decisions at the Community level are timely and relevant.

Major investments in infrastructure must integrate the tourism dimension and this must be part of an overall integrated development strategy in which tourism has an essential role.

The ongoing challenge for the industry is, of course, to satisfy the tourists' needs so as to maintain and increase its customers. At the same time, policy makers are faced with the need to ensure sustainable growth, local development, environmental protection and job creation. So their decisions too have an essential impact on the satisfaction of tourists needs.

In order to respond to these challenges, I believe that the key concept is partnership.

Firstly, business to business partnership. Small businesses have many common interests with larger enterprise, since both at the destination, as well as in the originating markets, they have all a stake in the success of their operations. I was very glad to see that the High Level Group emphasised the need for a healthy relationship between all parts of the industry. This can exist while allowing for a situation where competitiveness determines success and failure in the market.

Second, public and private partnerships. Tourism business is essentially a network, which includes producers, intermediaries, providers and promoters of a wide range of tourism-related services, together with different complementary segments of the markets, and the involvement of public authorities at different levels. Partnership has unfortunately sometimes been seen as a burden. This is quite wrong. Partnership is increasingly seen as an essential pre-condition for successful tourism development.

In the growing process of modernisation and consolidation of the tourism companies, vertical and horizontal alliances as well as relations with public authorities play a significant role. This process must not fail to take account of the situation of small and medium sized enterprises, which are also an essential part of the tourism chain, and which contribute to the satisfaction of tourists needs. SMEs often find it difficult to be part of a balanced integrated process of development, an aspect which requires that at the Community level we make a special effort to encourage greater competitiveness of small businesses.

Third there is partnership between public authorities. This is especially important at European level mainly for two reasons:

At one level, the Community can play a catalytic role in the identification and exchange of best practice, and the development of common projects and innovative approaches to key issues.

At another level co-operation is essential also, as many visitors from third countries see Europe as a single destination. Therefore there is a responsibility on public authorities to work together to ensure that these visitors take away an excellent image of Europe.

And finally there is effective social partnership, so essential to ensuring that workers and employers see themselves as part of a common effort to achieve success. I am especially pleased to see the rapid strides that have been made and the changes of attitude that have come about in this important area. These developments will ensure that investment in human resources will bring a big return.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As regards the policy options at European level, our actions can, and must, be complementary to those of the Member States and provide real added value. They must be based on consultation and co-operation with the Member States, the industry and all those involved in tourism.

I believe that the strategic goals for European Tourism must be competitiveness and quality.

To achieve these goals, I believe that we need flexible framework, which will ensure:

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that we will be able to collect and disseminate information thereby increasing knowledge on tourism;
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that all Community policies affecting tourism will take account of its potential; and
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that we will be able to undertake concerted actions on issues of common interest, and help the process of learning from each other.

At the same time, we must fully explore existing possibilities for marketing our knowledge, for example within the framework of our external relations policies. Europe must seize every opportunity to export its know-how to third countries; it is important that they too should develop their tourism industries on the basis of quality and sustainability.

I believe that with such a clearly defined and flexible, framework, which will assure the maximum mobilisation of resources and the effective co-operation of the various actors, we will be able to increase the competitiveness of European tourism.

Mr. President, I know you would have liked to have Bill Gates here this evening to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Intergroup. But, if we cannot have him, we can at least ponder on some of his words. I have been especially impressed by the following quote from his recent book:

"I have a simple but strong belief. The most meaningful way to differentiate your company from your competition, the best way to put distance between you and the crowd, is to do an outstanding job with information. How you gather, manage and use information will determine whether you win or lose."

There is a clear message here not just for business; it applies equally to European tourism policy.

I wish you all a very pleasant evening.