Sustainable Tourism in Europe

Landscape Dimensions - Reflections and proposals for the implementation of the European Landscape Convention

Niek Hazendonk, Marlies Brinkhuijsen, Chantal de Jonge, Hugo de Jong, Dirk Sijmons, avril 2017

This text is taken from the chapter on Landscape and Leisure in Europe and corresponds to the 7th point of the chapter. It deals specifically with the issue of sustainable tourism, and establishes the basis for taking into account tourism, landscape, planning and management in the framework of the transition.

When the European Union began to take an interest in the issue of tourism, it immediately took into account the environmental dimension of the sector. In the mid-1990s, the Commission’s Green Paper on the role of the Union in the field of tourism (DOCE 97/1995 of 4 April 1995, COM series) stressed that one of the Union’s objectives in the field of tourism was to contribute to sustainable development. The Philoxenia programme proposed measures to develop quality European tourism by promoting sustainability. For example, it provided for the establishment of environmentally friendly management systems and a European Tourism and Environment Award.

The award had three objectives

The tourism sector has benefited greatly from European support. Many funding programmes have been set up and some grant programmes for environmental projects also benefit tourism stakeholders. The EU financial instrument LIFE supports various projects that promote sustainable tourism, such as the protection of natural, cultural or traditional resources in regions that are economically dependent on them, as well as projects developing new concepts of environmental protection. In the framework of the Commission’s Action Plan to support tourism, several pilot projects for sustainable tourism have been financially supported: for example, the transnational project « For soft mobility in tourist resorts and regions » (Eckert and Cremer, 1997). However, the lack of a real common European policy in the field of tourism can be seen as the main obstacle to the achievement of the objectives set in the sector. The idea that has always prevailed, and still prevails, is that tourism activities are mainly a national, regional or local matter, and that European actions should only complement them. As a result, measures taken at European level are ineffective and are more a matter of intention than of decision.

Involvement of all relevant sectors

At the beginning of the 21st century, the need for sustainable tourism in the EU Member States began to be widely felt and initiatives in this field became a priority.

In order to achieve this objective, the European Union relied on international guidelines in this field. These include Agenda 21 for the Travel and Tourism Industry, developed in 1999 by the WTTC, the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and the Earth Council; the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, adopted by the UNWTO General Assembly, which emphasises the principle of sustainability; the UNEP International Guidelines on Sustainable Tourism; and the Convention on Biological Diversity. The European Commission has produced a White Paper entitled « European Transport Policy for 2010: time to decide » with a view to developing more efficient and sustainable modes of transport for tourism. The Commission also drew up the Basic orientations for the sustainability of European tourism (21-11-2003, COM/2003/716), which defines the measures to be implemented by the European Union and invites all parties with an interest in the tourism sector to become involved, namely the European Union itself, international organisations, states, local authorities, private stakeholders and finally citizens and tourists. Key measures include the creation in 2004 of a group to work towards the development of sustainable European tourism (made up of representatives of trade associations, tourist destinations, trade unions, civil society organisations, Member State administrations and international organisations) and the development of the European Agenda 21 for tourism (Villanueva-Cuevas, 2011).

The European Agenda 21 for Tourism The Agenda for a Competitive and Sustainable European Tourism (19.10.2007, COM/2007/621 final) stresses the need to develop a more competitive and environmentally friendly European tourism industry. This means sustainable tourism, a quality that differentiates it from other emerging destinations.

To achieve this, the implementation of public policies based on the sustainable management of destinations and the inclusion of the concept of sustainability in the actions of businesses and tourists is fundamental (Villanueva-Cuevas, 2011). The Commission has defined the following principles and invited all parties to respect them

The Commission encouraged all parties involved in the tourism sector to increase their level of participation. In addition, it recognised its responsibility to act in this field and committed itself to continue its role as initiator at European level with the following objectives

Until then, sustainability initiatives were part of specific sectoral policies that affected tourism, such as transport policy, or isolated actions to protect EU territories subject to excessive tourism, the Protocol on Tourism of the Alpine Convention.

The European Union had no power to impose a real policy on the Member States in the tourism and landscape sector. Indeed, since the European Union had become involved in these issues, it had been decided that the main initiatives in favour of tourism should be taken mainly at local level, because the Member States, regions and local bodies had a more direct knowledge of the problems related to tourism and could more quickly find solutions adapted to the specificities of each territory. Thus, it was necessary that the European Union’s initiatives in the sector should scrupulously respect the principle of subsidiarity. European measures could therefore only add value to the actions of each State. Although many people asked for a specific chapter on tourism to be included in the founding Treaties, this proposal was systematically rejected, due to the limited possibilities for action by the European Union, the lack of budgetary resources, the lack of human resources in the common organisation of the sector, the lack of coordination of initiatives carried out by the Member States, etc. However, at the beginning of this century, various factors have contributed decisively to changing the European Union’s tourism strategy: European tourism is growing, but its growth is lower than the world average, especially in comparison with emerging destinations. Similarly, it is becoming necessary to respond to the new challenges posed by tourism (new internal destinations, external competition, lack of skilled labour, quality of services, adoption of the euro, deregulation of public transport). All these factors require better coordination. As a result, a strategic framework has been drawn up with a view to establishing a genuine common policy on tourism.

This trend was reflected in the Lisbon Treaty (Article 195 of the consolidated text of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, DOCE, 30.03.2010, C 83/47), which gave the European Union specific and substantial powers to support, carry out and coordinate the actions of the Member States, thus tending towards clearer and more coherent action, and not limited to coordinating compliance with legal and regulatory provisions by Member States. Certainly, results have been achieved through this new framework for action: in the field of sustainable tourism, for example, the informal ministerial meeting organised by the Spanish Presidency of the Council, held on 15 April 2010, was a decisive step towards securing the commitment of the European Union and all Member States to work towards a more competitive, sustainable, modern and socially responsible tourism sector. In June 2010, the Commission presented a communication based on these new powers, which described various measures to promote European tourism and its development and adaptation to the current difficult economic situation (Communication from the European Commission, « Europe, the world’s leading tourist destination: a new policy framework for European tourism », Brussels, 30.06.2010, COM (2010) 352 final). This new framework, which the Commission is trying to establish for tourism, is based on four core ideas, one of which is to promote the development of sustainable, responsible and high quality tourism. To achieve this objective, the Commission proposes to take a series of measures:

Making sustainability the identity of European tourism

The European Union does not approach sustainability actions in the same way as other actions in the tourism sector. It is not just one line of action among others. From now on, only sustainable tourism will be taken into account. The Commission links the competitiveness, quality and development of the European tourism model with sustainability to such an extent that it considers that the future of the sector will be closely linked to the quality of the tourism experience, of which sustainability is an integral part. For her, we should no longer talk about European tourism without talking about sustainable European tourism. However, this should not make us forget how tourism has been treated by the European Union. Although the Union now has new powers that can enable it to coordinate, complement and support the initiatives of the states in favour of sustainable tourism, it is still up to the states to develop such projects, and their ability to carry them out will depend on their evolution (Villanueva-Cuevas, 2011). In this context, the role of the European institutions, including the Council of Europe, will be to teach the Member States and regions that the future of European tourism must be based on sustainability, as a vector of quality and competitiveness, but in such a way that this characteristic is the ‘quality mark’ of European tourism and not just another characteristic.

In our opinion, landscapes are a key element in presenting Europe as a quality brand. Landscape should therefore be taken into account in European policy and closely linked to the new conception of tourism policy at European level.