European Tourism Convention, 12 October 2020: a dialogue on sustainable recovery
The European Tourism Convention, was a one day, virtual, high-level event organised by the European Commission (the executive branch of the European Union), with the apparent aim of collecting ideas and proposals for the sustainable restart of the European Tourism sector. It took place online on October 12th. In the morning, around 150 delegates, representatives of EU institutions, public authorities, employee and employer associations, academics, consultants and other stakeholders, including the author, were split into three working groups and further divided into three breakout rooms: "Safe and seamless tourism experience", "Greener Holidays" and "Tourism powered by Data". In the afternoon, the public plenary session took place with an attendance of 700. I took part in the Green Holidays workshop and its 3rd breakout room titled "To encourage new business models through innovation for sustainable development and a circular tourism economy". The key themes of that 'breakout room' were (i) how to address structural challenges and avoid known challenges (e.g., overtourism, seasonality), (ii) how to accelerate the decarbonisation towards climate-neutrality (e.g., low carbon-intensive and smart mobility, energy efficiency), (iii) how to encourage new business models for sustainable development (e.g., customer value), and i(v) how to stimulate climate change mitigation and adaptation (e.g., SMEs' tools).
The following actions were proposed to the plenary section after a vote.
- Authorities commit to promote to the markets credible certifications, awards, EU to determine minimum Credibility criteria.
- Empower tourism SMEs and destination management and marketing organisations with innovation capabilities, financial instruments, and legal frameworks to support a transition to a circular tourism economy.
- Assure open access and ownership of relevant data for business and destinations' innovation, define and prioritize data categories: mobility/geospatial/ biodiversity/ remote sensing, etc.
- Speed up business accelerations (type?) and uptake of sustainable innovations in product, services, and processes.
A full list of the Actions proposed in all working groups, along with results of the poling during the plenary session can be found at: http://www.tourism-convention.eu/plenary-session/
At http://www.tourism-convention.eu/statements/ you may find some interesting statements from the Tourism Ministers of each EU country written on the occasion of this event.
You may also view the recording of the opening and plenary sessions at https://webcast.ec.europa.eu/european-tourism-convention
It will be interesting to see if and how many of these greenish and rather general proposals make it to the next stage, whatever that is in the rather complex policy-making system of the EU. It is hoped that in the effort to restart tourism as soon as possible so as to save as many jobs as possible, the environment and genuine community needs and concerns will not once more take a backseat. While every tourism state official and head of big tourism company nowadays never forgets to mention sustainability and green recovery to the press, it is doubtful that their definition of sustainability really exceeds economic viability to cover the full spectrum of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
In the course of being accepted as a Convention participant, I submitted the following three proposals for Greener Holidays in the EU, which the organisers presumably found of interest:
- Green Transport - build more high-speed rail links, fund by tax on airline fuel.
- Improve waste management by Accommodations and Destinations.
- Green Energy Production by Hotels and Resorts.
During the breakout room session I added that:
- No new tourism infrastructure should be created unless it is fully green while priority in terms of funding should be given to make existing infrastructure green.
- Longer holidays and long-stay travellers (aka half-tourists) should be encouraged, as a means of minimising carbon from air transport and expanding the holiday season.
There are so many things that can be said and need to be fixed for Greener Holidays that a one-day event where the average delegate had effectively a few minutes to say something meaningful (in sharp contrast to the keynote speakers) about a very broad topic, may seem like a drop in an ocean of problems in an era of crisis. Still, the fact that such events take place online and the status quo at least entertains the idea of a better tourism even at a time of acute crisis is a step in the right (green) direction.