The 21st of April, we attended a debate about the situation of the European tourism and more particularly about sustainable tourism in Europe. Organised on the European Rail year by the European Network for Sustainable Travel,  this live event reunited several professionals of the tourism sector from all across Europe, researchers and european deputies. The aim was to raise voices about sustainable tourism needs, wishes and propositions for a conscious tourism in Europe in the near future.

If every participant agreed on how important the tourist industry is for every European Country economically speaking, its boundaries are signalled : mass consumption, pollution, waste, environmental damages. The term “industry” has bad connotations like overconsumption, massive arrivals, pollution, disrespect of the environment.

The experts of the tourism sector present at the live event, were very conscious about all of it. Thus, the question of the use of the term “industry” was asked. Their expectations for the near future tourism, just after the pandemic, are absolutely not these. This idea of industry has to be replaced by a sustainable way of travelling.

Participants state loud and clear their engagement for a new form of tourism. For Teresa Fereira, development and innovation director at Turismo Portugal, partner of this live conference, “sustainability is the new normal”, saying that sustainable tourism must not be considered as a niche sector. Tourism is a real business and the challenge is to keep this sector alive and prosperous while protecting the environment, territories and populations.  It’s all about bringing the slow living movement, the sustainable consumption, and the responsible travel in European minds.

Cooperation at every scale

Participants insisted on the importance of creating networks and cooperation between local offers, population, and institutions. Among those propositions, Teresa Feirera talked about the fact that tourism has to be more attentive to the local population and work with associations, municipalities and regions. If so, the tourist offer will be more adapted to the local culture, the authenticity, but more importantly, to their need in terms of visibility and employment. It’s all about finding the point where consumers and tourist expectations meet, making them both more engaged and responsible for this sustainable way of traveling.

 Moreover, supporting cooperation between local tourist operators can be primordial. Locally, tourism professionals should start to work together. Some concrete solutions have been proposed : including local association and initiatives to the tours and touristic offers,  even if they are not directly concerning tourism, working in networks and cooperatives to have more political and economic impact, etc. Creating cooperation and networks will also make them more audible and visible to institutions, which have the possibility to change the rules, explains Julia Balatka, co-founder of the Conscious Tourism Group. It would also be easier to collect numbers, metrics and data to figure out how to change those.

Thinking local to develop global and sustainable tourism?

To create new strategies adapted to economic, social and environmental issues, several concrete propositions have been proposed, developing global strategies based on local actions. Analysing the local actions to think of a new “global methodology”, according to Petra Thomas, can be a great key to designing those new political strategies.  Vice versa, touristic institutions should give them more visibility and consideration to help them prosper.  To do so, Claudia Monteiro de Aguiar, european deputy, is thinking about creating an european agency dedicated to tourism to help design this sustainable tourism all together, with a glocal point of view and an European touristic eco-label to give them visibility. She also talked about including tourism to green agendas, even if not dedicated only to tourism, are two institutional things that can be done but also make the EU sustainable tourism group, created in 2012, operational again.

Indeed, for every participant, it is time to think about new touristic strategies based on small and medium sustainable touristic enterprises, highlighting the natural environments, the populations and local initiatives for responding to the social, economic and sanitary crisis.  This way of conceiving and developing touristic offers from local insights across Europe must change the european, national and regional touristic political strategies : developing networks and cooperation between operators, locals, institutions, at different scales.

What about the train?

This European trail year makes the participants think about train mobility. To reduce the tourism carbon footprint, support train travel is one of the main ideas. Indeed, it has to become a practical and affordable solution. The director of Sardinia fair travel said that they must use train mobility to find ways to reduce seasonality and to develop proximity tourism. Cooperating with states to make it less expensive, more practical, and maybe reinstauring night trains at an european scale can represent efficient solutions.

We have the proof that tourism can be a real stepping stone for our territories, empowering locals, valuing cultures and natural environments. The keystone of those projects is how local initiatives and institutions actions will be able to connect to each other to act for good.

To watch the whole conference:

To learn more about European Network for Sustainable Travel click here

Chloé Delaloy

Marine de Briey