This round table is one of the two introductory round tables that took place in Barcelona in the framework of the Mediterranean Sustainable Tourism Convention on June 5th.

The panel was composed by:

  • Mr. Octavi Bono, General Director of Tourism, Generalitat de Catalunya. NESCTouR Presidency.
  • Mr. Adam Bodor, Director Eurovelo and Advocacy European Cyclists Federation and Vice-chair of Tourism Manifesto.
  • Mr. Milosz Momot, Deputy Head of Unit Tourism, Emerging and Creative Industries European Commission.
  • Dr. Marcello Scalisi, Director of UNIMED - Mediterranean Universities Union.
  • Ms. Anaël Le Bihan, Area Manager - Projects & International Cooperation Association of the Mediterranean Chambers of Commerce (ASCAME).

The session was chaired by Mr Juan Daniel Núñez Sánchez, Founder and editor at Smart Travel News, which is the first travel technology news website in Spain, with a big presence in social media and the first travel media to have a daily podcast, since 2018.

INTRODUCTION

The European Union is the leading tourism region in the world, 562 million international arrivals in 2018 accounting for 40% of worldwide arrivals. Within the region, tourism is an essential economic sector for the Mediterranean countries receiving almost 300 million visitors. In spite of these figures, European institutions have limited competences on tourism policies. However, due to the horizontal nature of tourism sector, other European policies in topics like digitalisation, sharing economy, consumer protection, transport and energy, skills and education, regional policy, taxation or visa policies have a direct impact on tourism policies. Under this scenario, some cooperation frameworks among international, European and other administrative levels have been launched in order to support the competitiveness and sustainability of the tourism industry, to promote Destination Europe as a whole, to mainstream tourism across other EU policies, and also to request for a more strategic approach, resources and visibility of tourism in the new European programming period.

THE SESSION

The moderator introduced the panel referring to a UNWTO report countries stating that destinations around the world are integrating sustainability in their tourism policies but the evidence on the results of their implementation remains limited. So first question was why are we not doing enough if the importance of sustainability is agreed by all member states?

Presentations by the panellists

Mr. Adam Bodor, as representative of Tourism Manifesto highlighted that, firstly, we need to get enough recognition in Europe for the tourism industry and its policies, since this economic activity represents a 10% of the world GDP. The tourism industry is bigger than the current perception, meaning that sustainability is not included in all policies related to the industry. For this reason, we need to take into account the policies that are linked to tourism such as transport, passenger rights, taxes, VAT regulations, financial incentives, etc. in Europe. Another important issue is how the European Union is investing its resources and how sustainability indicators could monitor these investments.

The representative of the DG-GROW European Commission, Mr. Milosz Momot, believes that these changes need time. There are revolutionary issues that need to be implemented by organizations in order to change the patterns in a destination. The tourism industry is extremely complex, plus considering the human factor, meaning the change will not be overnight. Capitalism only allows for change when there is an economic gain, making change even slower, since sustainability does not always allow for immediate economic gain.

Now is the time to trespass from words to actions. Even though sustainability has been a great issue for years, it is only recently that we see changes, such as the recent Council conclusions which are slowly starting to shift the focus from tourist arrivals to sustainability and sustainable growth. De facto, the document about the EU tourism policy is the Communication 2010 and its title is still talking about tourism destination number 1 in the world. Another key aspect is the will of the diverse agents in the tourist industry to cooperate. For instance, member states of the European Union are willing to work together onto a more qualitative development of this economic sector, always bearing in mind that this collaboration needs to be maintained.

It is expected that departing from the Council conclusions reached by member states, this November a new commission will be created. This group will integrate new decision-makers, which will determine the agenda for the next five years, meeting the sustainable needs of destinations.

From a regional perspective, Mr. Octavi Bono on behalf of the main tourism network of regions in Europe (NECSTouR), stated that changes in the tourism industry are slow due to the lack of a clear understanding on the alternative to the current tourist situation. Furthermore, people are not willing to change their behaviour, leaving sustainability to be just a word. Some measures should be more regulated in an stronger way from a higher administrative level and maybe in Europe there is not still enough political power to do so.

Dr. Scalisi and Ms. Le Bihan pointed out the need to develop linkages and cooperation between the Northern and Southern shores of the Mediterranean.

On the one hand, according to Dr. Scalisi from UNIMED, Southern Mediterranean countries still have a huge potential to improve and develop the tourism industry. However, we need to consider their situation and the challenges they present, such as the revolution in Egypt and Tunis. It is not possible to discuss sustainability without the participation of local population; otherwise it is just political will or academic work with no real impact. Unfortunately, the political situation in southern Mediterranean countries doesn’t allow such participation. People, and more specially youth, demand participation, but economic situation and current governments do not allow for local participation. The improvement of governance and the inclusion of local communities in the decision-making processes is nowadays under study at a University level. However, European universities need to bear in mind that the methodologies used in the north of the Mediterranean do not fulfil the needs of southern countries.

In this sense, tourism can be a mechanism to improve two aspects. On the one hand, it must include tourists to better understand sustainability and to better understand their society. On the other hand, improving mobility can have a positive impact on cooperation among nations. For this reason, it is necessary to boost student exchange experiences, with the aim of creating a Mediterranean generation with an Erasmus for the Mediterranean, as basis to recognise each other and to create a sustainable political cooperation.

On the other, from the private sector, Ms. Le Bihan from ASCAME, tourism is considered one of the economic pillars in the Mediterranean, considered a main world destination due to its climate. The private sector seeks for the development and improvement of sustainable tourism. Moreover, public administration aims to support this vision and continue developing new services and activities in order to improve the competitiveness. A current key challenge is both for the north of Europe and the south of the Mediterranean to work together and cooperate to bridge the gap among both regions.

Main discussion

  • Can this generation do anything about it or do we have to wait for the next generation to implement changes?

Scalisi emphasised on the importance to start from something and to set up initiatives know each other. We need the youth to collaborate among them in order to break the culture division and the current idea of civilizations clashes. Travel is a way to understand other cultures and a way to let visitors know us. Mobility of students, through Erasmus programs and similar policies, is the key aspect that needs to be tackled. Finally, it should be understood that without the Mediterranean Sea, Europe does not exist. We need a positive view and message for the Mediterranean.

  • How can states cooperate among them in order to create a European standard policies?

Momot reminded that the European Union has very few and limited competences on tourist policies, weakened by the refusal of member states to give more power to the EU. This issue arises the question of how the power should be shared among more local and European authorities.

Bodor added that many solutions have been developed. Nowadays, regions and cities have implemented their own guidelines and tools, which, although they are not binding, and some of them have received funds from the European Union. This expresses the need of creating common standards, as well as promotion and marketing actions. As an example the projecte MedCycleTour has created common strandards for developing the Eurovelo 8 in the Mediterranean.

Better Europe is the idea that Bono supported. Although Europe has been built around strong intergovernmental relationships, but there is a need of transnational relationships that allow the EU to face serious issues, such as climate change or the migration crisis.

Le Bihan mentioned that cooperation is the key to creating a European standard policy. This said cooperation needs to include all the countries in the Mediterranean region as equals, either the northern, eastern and southern countries. At the same time, both public and private sectors must be included in order to achieve this cooperation.

  • Questions form the audience arise the need to enhance the competences of EU in the field of tourism

In this sense, Momot believes that competences should move from a more regular to more regular tourism policy to sustainability issues with more competences in fields like climate, environment, biodiversity, waste or other issues that affects directly the tourism sector, always from a more qualitative perspective. This homogeneity does not affect the competition established among destinations, regions and countries, since the EU should have no power upon these dynamics.

Scalisi defended the idea of more Europe. Despite the fact that member states agree on the need of a stronger Europe, reaching this goal is difficult due to the internal competitions among regions of the countries. The development of a more united and cooperative Europe depends mainly on member states. For this reason, it is necessary to change the storytelling applied to Europe in order to have a stronger destination.

You can access the video recording here.

// This report was drafted by Núria Abellan Calvet and Marta Salvador i Almela, CETT-UB students, and edited by Josep Rodríguez, Barcelona Provincial Council //