Discussing the priorities of the Belgian Presidency of the EU with Minister Valérie de Bue
As Belgium took over the EU Presidency on January 1st, could you outline the key priorities and strategies identified to enhance the growth of the European tourism and hospitality industry?
The Belgian Presidency wishes to emphasize the contribution of tourism to sustainable growth and the attractiveness of Europe in a globally connected tourism environment. Tourism is recognized as a sector of major importance at the European level, contributing to economic growth and the creation of high-quality jobs in many regions of the Union.
The tourism sector calls for the attention of all European partners and the formulation of an ambitious vision to accelerate its transition. The reopening and recovery of the tourism ecosystem represent an opportunity to leverage the post-COVID-19 recovery phase towards a green and digital transformation for a more resilient tourism ecosystem.
We will work with our European partners to support the tourism industry in its dual transition. The digitalization of the tourism sector as well as its sustainable development will be two of our highest priorities during this semester.
In this regard, the Presidency will pay particular attention to the monitoring of the Commission’s Transition Pathway for Tourism, relying on the mid-term evaluation currently being drafted by the Commission. During the Informal meeting of European Tourism Ministers scheduled for February 2024, Member States will be asked to express their views on the content and development of the Commission's evaluation report and present innovative policies and projects that respond to the issues raised by the Transition Pathway.
The Presidency also wishes to address that Tourism, as a topic, has gained prominence on the European Agenda in the recent years. As such, the Presidency is committed to call onto all European partners to maintain the attention granted to tourism in the past years and to support its extension beyond this European mandate.
How does the Belgian Presidency intend to support the European hospitality sector, particularly SMEs, in implementing sustainable practices?
The European Union has proven to be very ambitious on the topic of circularity and waste management. On 30 November 2022, the Commission proposed to revise the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive to contribute to the reusability and recyclability of packaging and reduction of single-use plastics. The Fit for 55 legislative package also contributes to the energy efficiency and increased use of renewable energy across sectors, including tourism.
In this regard, the Presidency is dedicated to realising the vision set forth in the European Agenda for Tourism 2030, which aims at driving sustainable prosperity in this sector in compliance with the goals of the twin transition. Within this agenda, the Commission and Member States recalled their intention to provide support to tourism services in order to reduce their environmental footprint in line with the EU objectives and support the improvement of waste and water management.
This transformation is already ongoing. Indeed, through the Commission’s Transition pathway for Tourism, ambitious pledges have been made regarding the circularity of the tourism sector.
While Member states are integrating seeking to improve waste and water management and reduce pollution of tourism services in their transversal strategies, concrete actions are also taken by stakeholders. Large companies develop circular strategies to reduce their environmental impact; SMEs are invested in innovative circular scheme funding, research, and guidance while business associations support collaborative building of roadmaps to their sector and dissemination of concrete good practices recognised for the industry.
Reliable indicators will be important to keep track of progress on tourism circularity, as they provide fuel for further policy initiatives.
Those pledges are a message of optimism regarding how the sector can innovate to meet the evolving demands of tourists. Indeed, the competitiveness of the EU tourism industry will largely depend on its capacity to meet the need and customer demand to become more sustainable.
Considering the revision of the Package Travel Directive (PTD), how does the Belgian Presidency of the EU plan to strike a balance between safeguarding consumer interests and ensuring the viability and well-being of tourism and hospitality SMEs?
The Package Travel Directive (PTD) stands as an important piece of legislation within the European Union, carrying profound implications for the tourism and travel industry. It mandates travel operators to offer precise and transparent information regarding travel packages, inclusive of pricing, incorporated services, cancellation policies, and additional fees. As such, the Directive helps building consumer trust regarding European travel business, thus expanding the EU’s attractiveness for travellers, both domestically and internationally. The Belgian Presidency will take forward the revision of the Travel Package Directive. Those efforts will ensure that consumers have the information and protection they need to make informed choices and allow them to benefit from the twin transition.
Given the significant labour and skills shortages faced by the European tourism and hospitality sector, could you share specific measures that the Belgian Presidency intends to introduce to address this pressing issue?
Our most valuable asset is our people. Special concern should be given to the professionalization of the sector and the improvement of skills, particularly digital ones. Lifelong training should be encouraged to promote an attractive career choice for our youths.
Belgium can provide examples of actions taken based on these objectives. Through the use of the National recovery and resilience plan’s funds, financial support is provided to SMEs in order to foster their digital maturity and skills thanks to a designated training program. Such initiatives are implemented in many European states and should be more widely developed. The development of education and skills in the tourism sector aiming at enhancing the attractiveness of careers in the sector is essential to guarantee the resilience of the sector.