Fostering Competitiveness in Europe’s Tourism Sector

The European Commission works towards visa facilitation and improved communication to bolster the industry

Over the past few years, the European Commission has implemented a wide range of initiatives in the field of tourism meant at enhancing the competitiveness of the sector and preserving the position of Europe as the no.1 world tourist destination. We know tourism is important to Europe … but just how important is it, and what are the Commission’s plans in tourism field for the near future? We put the question to the Commission’s Pedro Ortún …

Europe is the first tourist destination in the world and has kept its number one position in the past years. The EU reached 456.6 million international tourist arrivals in 2014, which corresponds to a share of almost 40% of the worldwide total, and scored an excellent 5.3% increase in 2014.

In order to keep this competitive position in the future, the European Commission will continue focussing on initiatives which can foster the competitiveness of the sector and create a favourable environment for tourism to grow in a sustainable and responsible manner. The Commission will focus on the following main challenges: the increasing competition from emerging markets, the need for better ICT uptake and innovation, as well as for a better promotion of our natural and cultural heritage, and the seasonality with its detrimental impacts on the quality of tourism jobs. In order to face these challenges, the Commission intends to propose a set of common actions to be implemented in close coordination with the Member States and in cooperation with the EU tourism industry and other private stakeholders.


On 1st April 2014, the Commission adopted a proposal amending the current visa provisions. What are the main features and objectives of the proposed reforms?

The basic ideas of this modernised visa policy were already laid out in a Commission Communication in November 2012 focusing on the “Implementation and development of the common visa policy to spur growth”. The recast is very ambitious and is articulated around the objective of easing the entire process for both applicants and for consulates. One of the proposed improvements for visa applicants is shortening of the maximum deadlines from 15 to 10 days. But the major facilitation for visa applicants we are putting forward is the idea of differentiating the treatment of known, regular travellers and unknown, first time applicants on the basis of clear, objective criteria. This means, for instance, that frequent travellers will not have to present, again and again, the same documents and hence the visa application process will be lighter, faster and less expensive. Moreover, under the proposed changes, they will also have easier access to multiple-entry visas (MEVs). At the moment these proposals are being examined by both the Council, composed by EU Member States’ governments, and the European Parliament.

“Europe – Whenever you’re ready” was the first international tourism communication campaign by the Commission. What’s planned for the near future?

Indeed, «Europe – whenever you’re ready» was the Commission’s first international communication campaign for the promotion of Europe as a top tourism destination. This communication was merely complementing the thrust of promotional activities of the Member States and the European tourism industry. Most importantly, the campaign was carried out in close cooperation with the European Travel Commission (ETC).

Building up on the success of this first communication campaign, the Commission envisages conducting a similar 18-month initiative in 2015 and 2016. The aim will be to promote the image of Europe as a collection of diverse, sustainable and high quality tourist destinations and motivate tourists to take their holidays in the EU, possibly in more than one country. This time, the campaign will target mainly tourists from European states, but also, to a smaller extent, from selected third countries. The focus will be on a restricted and cost-effective number of target groups with the highest potential for increasing tourism flows within Europe, in particular during the medium
and low season.

Do you feel tourism can also play a role in developing closer cultural ties, with, say the Chinese people?

I am absolutely convinced that this is the case. The very essence of the concept of «people-to-people» contacts is getting to know, understand, and ultimately respect each other. Obviously the Chinese tourists have very different needs compared to other visitors, and it is essential to bear this in mind.

How do you see the role of the ETC evolving over time? Will it become more important?

ETC as the organisation which regroups the National Tourism Offices of most European countries should have a crucial role to play in the promotion of Europe as a tourist destination in the future.

The high-level discussions on the occasion of the European Tourism Forum and European Tourism Day in 2014 highlighted that it is important that European tourism industry organisations and enterprises at all levels continue to strengthen their collaboration under the umbrella of a common European approach and positioning. I do believe that this would be best done through a joint initiative of public-private promotion of Europe as a tourist destination, through pan-European/transnational tourism products. ETC could therefore be the best placed organisation to lead on the implementation of such an initiative in close cooperation with the European Commission and the Member States and their NTOs.

Director in the European Commission since 1988, since 1st January 2015 Pedro Ortún has taken the role of Director in charge of Tourism, of Textiles, Fashion, Design and Creative
Industries and of Key Enabling Technologies and the Digital Economy in the new DG for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs (DG GROW).