Tourism boosts European integration

While tourism can play a major role in European
integration, countries need a joint tourism policy to face the continuing
tests that confront the industry, according to the 300 delegates meeting at
an international conference staged by the World Tourism Organization
(UNWTO) in Vilnius, Lithuania.
“Tourism today has to cope with newly emerging large-scale challenges,
including terrorism, unpredictable natural disasters or spreading epidemics,
” they agreed.

“In order to meet these challenges, as well as increased competition from
emerging regions, European countries have to make a concerted effort to
formulate a European tourism policy.”

This was one of the main conclusions of a conference, dealing with the
“Impact of the European Union Enlargement on tourism development in Europe”
following the adhesion of 10 new countries in May 2004, which was attended
by four Lithuanian ministers, led by premier, Algirdas Mykolas Brazauskas.

With Europe being the largest inbound and outbound regional tourist market,
accounting for more than 50% of worldwide tourist arrivals and receipts,
“the tourism sector is not only a generator of wealth and a major
contributor to European GDP but it is also closely interrelated with other
economic and social aspects,” delegates agreed.

As such it can “play a major role in European integration, at a time when
the construction of the European Union is faced with demanding challenges.”


The publicity surrounding the expansion had brought an image boost and
increased visitor numbers for new member states. Tourist destinations had
benefited from better transportation, especially with the growth of
low-cost airlines.

Border procedures had become simpler for travellers who also gained from
the extension of the EU consumer protection framework, including medical
care, and an improved service culture.

But among the disadvantages, delegates noted, were skilled tourism
personnel leaving the new member states, and the problems arising for a
sector dominated by small and micro-size companies in areas such as price
competition, delivery, quality and reliability.

Given the importance of emerging markets like China, India and Russia, it
was felt that “cumbersome or expensive requirements to obtain visas to
enter the EU” had especially penalized some new members, reducing the
number of tourist arrivals.

Rural tourism is a sector that is expected to play an increasingly
important role in the newer member countries, while modern forms of social
tourism should be “a factor of social cohesion” and help “in the fight
against exclusion caused by poverty, cultural differences or physical
disabilities,” delegates concluded.

With the EU’s cohesion policy for 2007-2013 set to support the development
of sustainable tourism, it was agreed that the long-term impact of
enlargement is likely to further reinforce intra-regional tourism.

New states will benefit from EU transport policy and network development
and a common legal framework in areas such as taxes, quality standards and
customer protection. At the same time the increased purchasing power in
these countries is expected to boost the number of their outbound
travellers to other European destinations.