Skift Take

A lot of talk has surfaced these past two years, but this fresh report from the European Commission affirms EU tourism boards’ agreement to implement new tourism metrics, and to prioritize both residents and tourists when it comes to travel services. It seems to indicate a turning point for the future of EU tourism.

A recommendation to adopt new sustainable key performance indicators for tourism, and go “from basic statistics on trips and overnight stays to data on the social, environmental and economic impacts of tourism” has emerged from the European Commission.

It’s a groundbreaking confirmation of the need to depart from a simple and harmful arrival based analysis in measuring the performance of tourism, and instead embrace more sustainable metrics to determine the true impact of the industry on destinations. 

The 57-page European Commission report on the future pathway for tourism, co-created with European Union member destinations and industry players, and released days ago, also lists the key priorities for tourism destinations and businesses to accelerate their green and digital transitions and build a more resilient, competitive tourism sector.  

Alongside the creation of sustainable performance indicators, the report emphasizes that the future success of the European Union’s travel industry will depend on its ability to meet consumer needs and demands for sustainable travel. Eighty-two percent of Europeans have shown interest in traveling more sustainably, for instance, the report points out.

To prevent the harmful effects of overtourism and build a more resilient model, European tourism boards should also include residents “in the planning and follow-up of tourism activities and impacts.” 

Building a more sustainable sector also means following the objectives of the European green deal and preparing to adapt for new policies and legislation ahead under the “Fit for 55” package, the report states. For the travel industry this means passenger transportation companies reducing their emissions, hospitality and tourism services adopting circular models to reduce footprint, and the travel sector empowering consumer choices by providing transparent information on sustainability and footprint of destinations and tourism businesses, among other steps.

The European Commission’s final recommendations happened to be released at the tail end of the European Travel Commission’s annual meeting. In a release on Monday, the gathered member tourism directors from EU destinations confirmed their intention to align with the report’s recommendations and help put into action.

“We believe that European NTOs, as the key national tourism players, should be the Commission’s main partner and have a major role in Pathway’s implementation in the years to come,” Luis Araújo, president of the European Travel Commission, told Skift.

To boot, tourism boards re-confirmed their agreement to help formulate and adopt new sustainable metrics for tourism. 

“While most of Europe’s NTOs have well-established tools to provide a wide range of KPIs related to the quantitative economic aspects of tourism, the majority still struggle with a lack of a wider picture of tourism impact,” Araújo said. “Looking at former metrics such as reach and economic value does not help anymore in this context.” 

Expanding the metrics and having it done and coordinated at the European level will significantly facilitate the sustainable transition of destinations, and the European Travel Commission’s research team plans to participate in this process actively, Araújo added. 

How soon will those urgently needed new tourism metrics emerge? That’s unclear for now, and the European Travel Commission’s Araújo did not reveal a timeline. But it appears to be a turning point for Europe’s tourism sector and the most official recognition yet that it’s time to stop relying solely on arrival numbers to prevent steering the region’s destinations back on an irresponsible growth path post pandemic, at the expense of residents and environment. 

The European Commission noted that this effort will require revision of legislation on harmonized data collection, and that discussions on developing the specific metrics are underway. The eventual outcome of this push to look beyond “heads in beds” is likely to bear significant influence on equity in global tourism down the road, and in encouraging other regions to embrace transparency on tourism’s true cost.

UPDATED: This story was updated to include statements from the European Travel Commission.


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