Interview with Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, Minister delegate for tourism, French national abroad, francophonie and for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises
1. On 1 January 2022, France took over the Presidency of the Council of the EU. This comes at a time of great fragility for European tourism and hospitality. A new variant of Covid-19 is quickly spreading around the world, and businesses and workers in our sector are once again facing a dire situation. How is the French government planning to address this issue over the next six months, and what will be the priorities of the French EU Presidency as regards tourism?
The French Presidency of the Council of the EU is taking place in what has been a difficult period for the tourism sector for almost two years. After a short period of recovery last summer due to vaccination and the harmonization and mutual recognition of European practices in terms of health policy, the Omicron variant has once again disrupted the sector.
In France, we have chosen not to adopt excessive restrictions, allowing vaccinated French people to live almost normal lives, like going to the cinema and restaurants. However, we have focused on preventive measures, particularly because of the variant’s contagiousness and the speed at which it is spreading. New health protocols have been put in place in order to protect both public health and economic activity, at a time when two waves linked to the Delta variant and the Omicron variant are hitting us hard. The government will continue to support sector professionals, as it has done since the outset of the crisis.
As for our priorities during the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union, we want to shift the focus beyond the pandemic. We now want to promote and expand the European tourism base in order to make our tourism sector more attractive and resilient. We also want to focus on the issue of sustainable tourism. As Europe is the continent which has done the most for the sustainability of world tourism, I think it is important to promote this aspect, which is appreciated by citizens and consumers.
Our priority is also to achieve better regulation and accountability of platforms; these are the objectives of the two regulations which we want to pass: the Digital Markets Act (DMA) and the Digital Services Act (DSA). This is also an important issue for our hoteliers, who sometimes suffer from unfair competition.
2. We at HOTREC firmly believe that coordinating travel restrictions across the EU as much as possible is a key step towards granting some degree of stability to businesses and workers in our sector, and increasing consumer confidence. What other aspects do you believe are essential to the recovery?
As you mentioned, the issue of traveller confidence is the basis for a sustainable recovery. This confidence depends on the ability of Member States to find effective policies to deal with the epidemic and to show coordination. But there can be no recovery unless everyone takes responsibility: vaccination is the key to maintaining tourism. In the longer term, the recovery of the tourism economy depends on the ability of companies to promote responsible tourism that fully meets consumer expectations. To that end, quality and sustainability labels have been introduced and any company that meets the requirements can apply for a label.
3. Looking to the future, what are your key messages for the European hospitality industry?
The pandemic has exacerbated underlying trends: tourism, particularly the hospitality industry, is a fragile ecosystem, but also a way of life for consumers and a passion for professionals. In the face of these challenges, I believe that focusing on staff training will help improve the quality of the hotel and restaurant offer and address recruitment difficulties. Also, to be more attractive, careers in the hotel business must be promoted. This is why we have chosen to develop a promotional campaign to attract and promote tourism professions.
Finally, I would like to send a message of pride and hope for the European hospitality industry: on our continent, as in the rest of the world, the pandemic has taken its toll, and this is being felt in our sector. However, we remain the most visited continent in the world, thanks in particular to our heritage, but also and above all because our European expertise in tourism and our sense of hospitality attracts visitors from all over the world.