Towards an EU strategy for sustainable tourism: Fighting seasonality in the EU coastal & insular regions

The Seas, Rivers, Islands and Coastal Areas Intergroup (SEArica) event “Towards an EU Strategy for Sustainable Tourism: Building forward smarter and greener in the EU coastal & insular regions”, co-organized by the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions (CPMR) was held online on 1st of October 2021. This event was conceived as a virtual exchange between members of the EU Parliament, the European Commission, representatives from CPMR coastal and insular regions and key territorial stakeholders. This event was part of the implementation of the WINTER MED advocacy campaign foreseen in the project's capitalisation activities.

The event was divided into 2 main sessions and tackled the following topics: the situation of the tourism sector in the EU coastal regions after the conclusion of the summer season in relation with the progressive way out of the pandemic crisis; the medium-long term reflection on an EU strategy for Sustainable Tourism towards a smarter, greener and more resilient sector; the EC targeted consultation on “Scenarios towards co-creation of transition pathway for tourism for a more resilient, innovative and sustainable ecosystem”. Moreover, during the second session, the territorial cooperation project WINTER MED, for which the CPMR Intermediterranean and Islands Commissions (CPMR-IMC & IC) are full partners, in charge of the capitalisation activities, was presented as a practical case of integrated sustainable tourism management in the Islands with the objective to capitalize its result into policy and look into new cooperation opportunities.

During the different exchanges of this event, it was stressed that the pandemic represents an opportunity to reflect on the current tourism model and rebuild it differently. In this framework and knowing that tourism is a heterogynous and complex ecosystem that has social, economic, and environmental impacts in all European regions, its transition must be done through an integrated approach that considers tourism in relation with other economic sectors and ensure communities benefit from new opportunities provided by tourism.

On another note, participants agreed that islands are among the European territories that have been hit the hardest by the pandemic and it becomes essential to collaborate to reach solutions on islands' main issues related to tourism; invest in renewable energy sources, carry out studies to preserve natural environments and cultural heritage in Islands, take advantage of Recovery Plans to end seasonality and invest in training skilled workforce in the tourism sector. To efficiently implement these solutions, cooperation, sharing best practices, and joining relevant projects have been pointed out as essential.

Ms Nagore Espinosa, external consultant from in2destination supporting ANCI Toscana with transferring activities, presented WINTER MED and its Transnational strategy for all-year-round tourism in Mediterranean Islands as a good practice of territorial cooperation promoting sustainable tourism and integrated management in the islands. The strategy provides tools to change and upgrade tourism, as well as innovative solution to increase the resilience of the tourism sector. It commits to the diversification of the project as a crucial means to overthrow seasonality. It specifically supports local SMEs and microenterprises as motors for the sustainable recovery of the sector, thanks to their direct implication within the Regional Action Plans (RAPs). The strategy built on the basis of 6 RAPs, all of which were developed through a participatory approach. With its 6 strategic axes (Innovation, Governance, Connectivity, Biodiversity & waste management, Urban planning &and development, Linkage with other sectors) and 5 instrumental axes (Funding, Capacity building, Business Intelligence, Product development, Communication & Marketing), the strategy is intended to be practical and replicable by other destinations facing the same problems and wishing to rebuild the sector in an intelligent way by fighting seasonality.

Cyprus & Elba RAPs were also presented, emphasizing the process, the participatory approach and the tools and innovative solutions. Eudokia Balamou, from Larnaca & Famagusta District Development Agency -ANETEL (Cyprus), shared an example of regional action plan to become an all-year-round destination by 2030.Indeed, the Island is seeking to solve its main problems related to tourism by structuring a strategy that has as main objectives to deliver a system of high value and well-planned experience in Cyprus, attract the right number of investors and MSMEs, and finally increase the tourism's benefit for local communities and the environment. On the other hand, Franco De Simone, CEO Infoelba Ltd, described Elba’s experience in the sustainable tourism transition. In 2020\21 Elba, a small island located in the Tyrrhenian Sea, adopted a common vision of sustainable development, shared with many stakeholders both public and private. WINTER MED represented the first moment of facilitation among all these actors, from which emerged a shared action plan to achieve carbon-neutrality in the island and adopt a series of sustainable behaviours in the tourist sector: minimize water consumption and energy consumption in hotels, cleaning with non-toxic products; ban single-use plastics in the Island and increase the number of charging stations for electric cars.

For the conclusions and materials of the event please consult the webpage event: EP Intergroup Seas, Rivers, Islands & Coastal Areas - Towards an EU Strategy for Sustainable Tourism: building forward smarter and greener in the EU coastal & insular regions -Conférence 2019-2024 (searica.eu)