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Travel agencies European call 🌿

Following the development of our “Guidelines and proposals for a sustainable and inclusive tourism in Europe” and our great disappointment concerning the European Tourism Convention organised by the European Commission on October 12th, about fifteen European deputies and their assistants, as well as European Commission officials, agreed to discuss our proposals. They represent several member states and a broad political spectrum. Our social and sustainable tourism networks have also responded to our call. We are now 20 travel agencies in Europe to co-sign these proposals. Through this document, we share what we have learned from these discussions and possible outcomes.

First of all, we want to thank all the people involved in this high-quality dialogue for taking the time to work with. Our request stemmed from the invisibility of our practices at the statistical and commercial levels on the main digital platforms and at the political level of the European authorities.. 

We discussed this situation, our six proposals for cooperation and the report on sustainable tourism by the Portuguese deputy Cláudia Monteiro de Aguiar entitled ‘Establishing an EU Strategy for Sustainable Tourism’. The report was submitted for amendments.

First of all, we emphasised that for us sustainable tourism cannot merely be tourism without airplanes. Such a limited vision inherently carries the risk of discriminating against destinations such as islands, as well as a strategy of isolation by States privileging staycation which is already a reality for the majority of holidaymakers. Similarly, in our opinion, sustainable tourism cannot be limited to criticising mass tourism. This view bears the risk of discriminating against the least well-off tourists travelling in groups. This would, once again, benefit only tourists with high purchasing power.

These two perspectives sweep under the rug the environmental responsibility of the entire sector, which is not limited to transport alone, and its social responsibility in a sector highly precarious which dramatically suffered from the current pandemic crisis. Finally, it means forgetting that freedom of movement is a human right that still remains a privilege, that paid vacations are a social conquest and that travel is a formidable tool for social transformation and intercultural dialogue.

1. Researching new statistical tools to measure tourism

We have observed that the statistics used to develop public policies and corporate strategies are partial and biased. They are incomplete because they only measure the positive impact of tourism. They are biased because they are mainly provided by the tourism industry and large digital platforms. 

We propose that the European Union publish data on both the negative and sustainable externalities of travelling. The following are leads that appear achievable to measure and interesting: the cost of a public tourism policy; the share of local purchases during a stay; the level of remuneration and social protection of jobs created locally; the overall environmental impact of a stay; the number of beds accessible to the disabled; the share of vacation access offers for all in the total touristic offer; the access of inhabitants to tourist offers and facilities; the share of non-touristic hospitality in the overall offer; the contribution of tourism to local public services; the level of participation of inhabitants in tourism governance; the impact of tourism on the residential and commercial land market ; 

We support the proposal to create a European agency that would provide these information while being attentive to the place that it would leave to the tourism industry in its governance in view of the experience of the already existing agencies at the national and international level.

2. A simplified tool to illustrate the ecological impact of a stay

Several MPs have shared with us their discussions with representatives of the tourism industry and digital platforms who were all committed to making their tourism practices more sustainable. 

A European standard would allow the simple display of the degree of sustainability of a stay (similar to the classification from A to E for washing machines in Europe) and could be used on a voluntary basis by operators wishing to be transparent about their degree of investment to protect the planet. A public standard would make it possible to assess the environmental and social impact of a stay by integrating factors such as mobility, accommodation, food and activities.

3 – An international network of sustainable tourism actors that would enable us to co-create itinerant trips

2021 will be the year of rail in Europe, and the agencies co-signatory of our call are volunteering to promote soft mobility as a whole, and the railway in particular. This also responds to the growing demand of passengers from Northern Europe to be able to travel to Southern Europe without using air travel and with a preference for transport by rail. If the trip becomes itinerant – e.g. in order to avoid long train journeys – it becomes necessary to be able to identify a sustainable tourism partner for each stopover. Today there is no European network of sustainable travel agencies and some destinations are without such an incoming agency. The European Year of Rail appears to us like an excellent opportunity to connect these agencies within a European scale.

4 – Territorialised carbon offsets

For us, sustainable tourism is not a tourism that would assume its environmental responsibility by donating a few euros for a charitable cause. Carbon offsetting can have a direct impact on the destination. It can be a pretext for a cultural exchange between travelers and locals around local environmental issues. In our practices, it can be integrated into the program of the stay and the host territory. In Sardinian for example, travellers can spend a day taking care of a forest alongside Sardinian shepherds and foresters. Other forms of territorialised carbon offsetting could be set up so as not to forget those living near airports.

5 – Reinforcing short circuits with the local agricultural sphere during the stay

Integrating tourists’ stays in the territories they visit implies establishing short circuits, in particular local food systems. This is an opportunity to discover the culture and to support local agriculture. This approach is promoted by the slowfood movement. Continental breakfasts or tourist menus are too often proposed by the tourism industry without taking into account local agriculture. Short circuits are implemented so that the local economy generated by the traveler benefits primarily local producers.

6 – Hospitality practices open to all visitors

The standards, intermediations and pricing logic of the tourist system no longer meet all the needs for hospitality. Many people passing through are excluded, such as seasonal workers, students, refugees, inhabitants, caregivers or underprivileged social classes. The pandemic has increased the gap between hospitality offers built for international tourism customers only and the needs to accommodate healthcare personnel, teleworkers, repatriates, people in quarantine, vulnerable people and the growth of local travel. Today, one person out of seven is travels around the world, by choice or obligation, and often outside of touristic hospitality, which remains inadequate. It is time to rethink the tourism system as a whole in order to move towards non-discriminatory hospitality practices in view of the climatic, economic and social crises that lie ahead. It is a question of human rights and respect for the dignity of people.

Next steps

The MPs appeared to share our findings and proposals. Several of them invited us to provide feedback on their proposals for amendments to the text on sustainable tourism. We found that our six proposals were adopted in this text which will be submitted to a vote at the European Parliament.

Together with the agencies co-signatory of our call, we have decided to be collectively active for the European Year of Rail in 2021 by co-developing holiday offers.

On Monday, 30 November, we are invited to participate in the upcoming European Parliament’s Transport and Tourism (TRAN) Committee: ‘Hearing on “Future-proofing the Tourism Sector: Challenges and Opportunities Ahead’. We will share, once again, our six proposals with the MEPs. Moreover, we will particularly express our willingness to collaborate on impact studies based on our practices to co-define new tourism indicators and to collaborate on the European Year of Rail in 2021 as an opportunity to network and cooperate between travel agencies on a European scale.

List of the travel agencies and travel platforms in Europe.

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