Tourism plays an important role in the EU because of its economic and employment potential, as well as its social and environmental implications. According to Eurostat, one in ten enterprises in the European non-financial business economy belonged to the tourism industries. These 2.3 million enterprises employed an estimated 12.3 million persons. Enterprises in industries with tourism related activities accounted for 9.1 % of the persons employed in the whole non-financial business economy and 21.5 % of persons employed in the services sector. However, the tourism industries’ shares in total turnover and value added at factor cost were relatively lower, with the tourism industries accounting for 3.7 % of the turnover and 5.6 % of the value added of the non-financial business economy.
President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani delivering his opening speech.
The key question is how to increase turnover and value added in the tourist industry while respecting the highest environmental standards. At first glance, this may seem impossible. But that is not the case: digitization offers the solution. The digitization of the tourism industry was therefore at the core of the High-Level Conference on Tourism that took place in Brussels on 27 September. The opportunities offered by the digitization of the tourism sector were underlined by the President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani in his opening speech, who stressed that the tourism industry has the potential to add 5 million new jobs in the next ten years. This explains why, despite tourism not being a direct competence of the EU, the Institutions attach such great importance to this dossier, in the hope to revitalize growth, employment, investments and regional development in the European continent.
President Tajani emphasized that European countries should not see each other as competitors to vie for attracting foreign tourists, reminding that, for instance, Chinese tourists visit multiple countries on their tours across Europe. Therefore, the real competition is not between France and Spain or other member-states, but between Europe and the other continents.
President Tajani called for a coordinated approach between EU Institutions, Member States, local authorities and the industry to boost the European tourism sector highlighting the importance of managing the digital revolution and promoting tourism on international markets, especially China.
China has been a recurrent theme throughout the conference. The economic and political importance of tourism between China and the EU was also underscored by Ambassador Yang Yanyi, who praised the political decision to nominate 2018 as the EU-China Year of Tourism. In this last public speech of her stint as Head of the Chinese Mission to the EU, she spoke of the increasing number of Chinese outbound tourists, expected to reach 700 million in the next five years. She also recalled the audience of the strategic importance that the Chinese government gave to tourism, which is seen as a major driver of economic transformation and upgrading.
Another Chinese speaker was Mr. Zhu Xiaolu, Senior Vice-President of Ctrip, China’s largest online travel agency. He argued that within 20 years the levels of Chinese tourists coming to Europe will increase three to five times. He also made some concrete suggestions to increase the number of Chinese tourists coming to Europe: increased European cooperation, better international train infrastructure, promotion of European cities in China, and lastly making traveling easier for Chinese tourist by simplifying visa procedures and offering services in Mandarin.
Mr. Zhu Xiaolu, Senior Vice-President of Ctrip speaking in the panel.
The round table on tourism innovation and the digital economy discussed how to increase, in practice, tourism to the EU. EU Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, responsible for digital economy and society, argued that a dialogue between digital and tourism can be a win-win situation. She mentioned that if we want to prosper we have to accept new technologies, however this requires new skills and therefore the Commission will support skills upgrading.
Commissioner Mariya Gabriel after the conference in which she underlined the possibilities of Digital in tourism and the responsibilities of the Commission on this subject.
Digital has also an enormous role in the promotion of Europe in China, for instance there is a huge opportunity for social media and specifically Chinese social media channels like WeChat in advertising a destination. Other digital products for example platforms such as Ctrip and Booking.com are having an enormous positive effect on the development of the tourism industry in the world.
Mr. Luigi Gambardella, President of ChinaEU, summed up the discussions saying that the future of tourism in Europe eventually amounts to two key words: digital and China. He made the point that big data and artificial intelligence are extremely important to deeply understand the Chinese tourism market, which is extremely diverse, and allow tourism providers to offer more personalized travel itineraries. He argued that if the European tourism industry adapts to the new digital world, the number of tourists between now and 2030 can be doubled, stressing that most of these tourists will come from Asian countries with a fast expanding educated middle class, and China in particular.
Mr. Luigi Gambardella, President of ChinaEU, speaking on the importance of China and the opportunities of Digital in the European tourism sector.
In the end, the conference was a huge success both in terms of participation and recommendations made. Never before have so many influential stakeholders met under the same roof to exchange ideas and visions on tourism innovation. ChinaEU sees a bright future for tourism in Europe, granted that the EU is able to fully embrace the many opportunities offered by the digital revolution and actively tap into the potential of the fast growing Chinese tourism market.