Europe bets on tourism to spur economic rebound

Tourists visit the Pillars of Olympic Zeus in Athens June 23, 2011. REUTERS/Yiorgos Karahalis

Tourists visit the Pillars of Olympic Zeus in Athens June 23, 2011.
Credit: Reuters/Yiorgos Karahalis

(Reuters) – Tourists could help steer Europe out of economic turmoil as the European Union works on plans for more support to the tourism industry — as well as attracting more visitors.

Europe is the No. 1 destination for international travellers, led by tourist hotspots Spain, France, Italy, Germany and Britain. The EU is working on ways to bolster the sector, which it estimates contributes more than 500 billion euros to the EU’s gross domestic product.

That amount doubles when related industries such as transportation, culture and construction are included.

«This lead position must be reinforced by tackling the challenges created by, firstly, greater global competition and a market demand that is continually changing and, secondly, the need to ensure increased sustainability,» Carlo Fidanza, an Italian member of the European Parliament, said in a report approved by the parliament’s tourism committee last week.

Fidanza said the way for the EU to «win a global challenge together» is to market Europe as a unified destination, rather than pitting member states against one another, as well as providing more resources to tourism in the next decade.

The European Commission began work last year to create European travel information websites in different languages, beginning with Chinese, to lure more visitors from non-English-speaking countries — something the EU saw as a step towards revitalising its economy.

«The European Commission wants to be the trailblazer working to breathe new life into this vital sector,» EU commissioner Antonio Tajani told reporters at the time.

Nearly 10 million EU citizens are employed in tourism and another 10 million work in tourism-related sectors.

Those 20 million jobs are especially significant given that the EU’s unemployment rate has been hovering above 9 percent for the past two years. One in five people is without a job in Spain — a leader in tourism, but which has been hit hard by the global downturn. It is the potential for growth and employment the EU could tap into.

«In addition to pursuing the integration and development of less-developed regions, it can contribute to growth and sustainable development in EU countries,» Fidanza said.

In the countries hit hardest by economic difficulties — Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland — tourism has been on the rise since the beginning of 2010, the European Travel Commission reported.

The number of visitors in Europe peaked in 2008 with 370 million international arrivals but tourism suffered across the continent with the onset of the recession. The European Travel Commission, which works with national tourist organisations in 36 countries, reported slow increases in travel last year and says it expects 3-4 percent growth through 2012.

However, it pointed out that a debt default — as some investors believe could be the fate in store for Greece, for example — would have a huge impact on the travel industry.

For the EU, encouraging growth in tourism involves a new marketing plan that includes creating a «European label» that would promote member states as a unified tourist destination as well as increasing financial support to the tourism sector. Both strategies are part of the plans devised by the European Commission and the Parliament’s tourism committee.

The EU began creating a framework to grow and sustain tourism in 2007, and the Commission now has 21 proposals to aid the sector, in addition to Fidanza’s plan.

They include monitoring visitors’ satisfaction with different tourist services, developing strong tourism relations with China, Russia, India, Brazil and Mediterranean countries and promoting Europe as a destination on visiteurope.com.

Completan el top 10: Londres y Tokio

Source / Fuente: http://www.reuters.com

Author / Autor: Alysha Love

Date / Fecha: 29/06/11

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