Elena Kountoura MEP, participates the Mediterranean Hybrid Forum 2021 and speaks on Sustainable Tourism.
It is a pleasure to be joining you from Strasbourg, where I currently am for the European Parliament Plenary. I would like to congratulate the organizers for this one-of-a-kind Mediterranean forum of sharing knowledge and ideas on how to shape a better, more sustainable future.
For the past seven years, as former Greek Tourism Ministerfrom 2015 to 2019, and now Member of the European Parliament, Coordinator of my group in the Tourism and Transport Committee and member of the Tourism Task-Force, I have strongly supportedholistic strategies and action for a sustainable pathway for tourism, as the only way forward.
During my term as Tourism Minister, we launched in Greece the first national tourism strategy for Greecebecoming a 365-day destination.
We introduced a model for sustainable tourism growth, by extending the tourism season, promoting new Greek destinations, developing diversified tourism products, penetratingnew markets abroad and increasing flight connectivity with new direct flights year- round.
In only four years, we achieved more than 35% growth in incoming tourism. And the year-to-year record-breaking performance in tourism revenuessupported our national economy’s recovery, leading to an increase in tourism investments, employment and new sources of income for businesses and local societies.
Our successful strategy for sustainable tourism growth gained international recognition. The United Nations World Tourism Organization UNWTO publicly referred to Greece’s tourism transformation policy in 2017 as a small miracle, and a case study for others countries. The World Travel & Tourism Council WTTC awarded us the Global Champion Award for 2019.
Tourism is a catalyst for growth in Greece, accounting overall for more than 20 per cent of its GDP. It is also a key pillar for the European Union, contributing more than 10 per cent to its economy and employment, with Europe being the leading global destination.
Yet, tourism and travel were among the sectors that were mostly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, with more than 11 million jobs affected and thousands of businesses brought at a stall in the European Union.
What needs to be clear, is that tourism indeed will play a major role over the next years in the effort to build back Europe better, for our economic and social recovery and resilience.
To this end, at the European Parliament, we have put pressureon the European Commission to move faster towards placing sustainable tourism high in the European agenda and enabling the sector’s twin green and digital transition.
Now, is the time for local and regional policymakers to rethink tourism. To abandon the unsustainable patterns that prevailed before the crisis and set the sector to recover in a competitive and sustainable way.
The decisions made for tourism affects directly not only travelers, but all stakeholders involved: businesses and workers in a wider chain of productive sectors that rely on tourism, and local communities. Even more tourism has the power to change whole areas, and reshape their environmental, economic and social prospects for growth.
Last year I proposed a TRAN Committee report that would highlight the need for an EU Strategy for Sustainable Tourism, aligned with theEuropean Green Deal, the Digital Agenda and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
The report I proposed was conducted by TRAN Committee and was adopted as a European Parliament Resolution last March.
We called on the European Commission to develop swiftly a roadmap for sustainable tourism. Right now, the Commission has prepared a working document, outlining possible scenarios for a transition pathway for sustainable tourism by 2030, and has initiated stakeholder consultation.
We also called on EU member-states to immediately devise sustainable tourism action plans at both national and regional level, by making full use of the Next Generation EU funds.
And we requested specialstimulus packages to small and medium size businesses and micro enterprises until 2024, to facilitate them to invest for their green and digital transition.
We have also stressed the need to support the tourism industry and destinations in implementing the principles of the circular economy, as well as for the sector to reduce its carbon footprint and to promote diversified tourism products, such as agrotourism, ecotourism health tourism and cultural tourism. We insist on policies for local development and sustainable new jobs, for workforce upskilling, and for stronger cooperation in tourism between EU states and third countries with benefits for all.
Sustainable tourism is also interlinked with sustainable mobility. This is exactly why every state needs to investmore in modern, safe and sustainable transport infrastructure and facilitate travel. At the European Parliament we have called for specific action to make outermost regions more accessible, and especially islands to help them lift barriers to growth they still face today due to insularity.
Cohesion is something we strive for and tourism has a major role to play. There are right now Europeanpolicies in place and several funds and programmesthatsupport cohesion and cooperation.
The Interreg Med Program has been one of them to promote sustainable tourism in the MED, engaging 13 countries. In the following months, we expect the new Interreg Euro-Med Program for 14 countries and a total of 69 regions, focusing on mitigating climate change impact on Mediterranean resources, while ensuring a sustainable growth and the well-being of its citizens.
Last, but not least, sustainability comes along with resilience.
The EU’s tourism sector must be able to cope with future crises, because no country can do it alone, as we have seen throughout this pandemic.
Ahead of us, other severe challenges rise as well, such as Europe’s energy crisis, the impact of extreme weather phenomena, and of course the climate crisis, where we simply cannot afford to fail.
This is why I proposed for a European Crisis Management Mechanism to be created for tourism in the EU. My proposal has already been adopted in two European Parliament resolutionsand we continue to strive for establishing both a crisis management mechanism, and an EU agency, dedicated to supporting tourism and its pathway to sustainability.
From my current position, I strive at the European level for all necessary action and policies to effectively address the challenges the tourism sector faces. And I can assure you of my support to collective efforts that lead to a more sustainable future in tourism for all.