EUKN Interview with the European Capital of Smart Tourism Initiative
In line with a preparatory action proposed by the European Parliament, the European Commission launched this year a new competition to award the title of European Capital of Smart Tourism 2019 to 2 European cities with the most smart, innovative and inclusive approaches to their tourism development.
EUKN: Why is it important to focus on smart tourism in a European context?
European Capital of Smart Tourism (ECST): Tourism is a vital contributor to the EU’s economic growth and employment: five EU Member States are among the world’s top ten tourist destinations worldwide. As the EU is welcoming more and more visitors every year, the development and diffusion of smart tourism practices is essential. Tourism is an activity that requires solutions to foster and protect cultural heritage while reconciling economic growth with sustainable, accessible and digital development.
The rapid evolution of digitalisation and the steady rise of Internet usage in the last decade across all aspects of life have drastically changed the way people travel and experience tourism. Almost 40% of the population in the EU relies on the Internet for making travel arrangements, booking accommodations or finding out about other travel related activities. Innovation and new information technologies have become determining factors to stimulate the competitiveness of the European tourism sector.
By rewarding exemplary practices of smart tourism, the EU seeks to encourage innovation of tourism destinations, support culturally diverse and inclusive tourism and highlight the multi-faceted contribution of tourism to sustainable development.
EUKN: The scope of the initiative is limited to larger cities (with population over 100,000). What is the reasoning behind this scope?
ECST: The European Capital of Smart Tourism is a new initiative, implemented this year for the first time. For this first edition, the scope was aligned mainly with other EU cities awards implemented by the European Commission (such as for example European Green Capital). Moreover, because the European Commission is already implementing the European Destinations of Excellence (EDEN initiative) for small, emerging sustainable tourism destinations, the European Capital of Smart Tourism focuses on bigger cities.
EUKN: One of the main aims of the European Capital of Smart Tourism initiative is to promote smart tourism in the EU. Is the “smart tourism destination” concept defined?
ECST: For the purpose of this contest, a smart tourism destination is defined in general as a city:
- implementing innovative, intelligent and inclusive solutions in the field of tourism
- using its territorial, social and human capital for the growth of its tourism sector, the prosperity of the city and better quality of life for its inhabitants
- offering enriched and customised tourism experience through valorising local assets while respecting and involving local communities
- facilitating access to tourism services and products through new technologies, interconnectivity, and interoperability of services
Moreover, for the purpose of this particular contest, the cornerstones of smart tourism are being defined, by the excellence of tourist destinations across the EU in the four award categories: 1) accessibility, 2) sustainability, 3) digitalisation, 4) cultural heritage and creativity.
The initiative aims at showcasing excellent practices in smart tourism implemented by cities, network and strengthen destinations, and facilitate the exchange of best practice among them.
EUKN: How will the global audience learn about the initiative?
ECST: The following activities are done and will be continued in order to promote the initiative globally, to spread the information about the initiative and the winning cities:
- An extended media outreach to the EU Member States and globally, through online communication, social media, presence at major events and fairs.
- Close work with EU Member States and regions, stakeholders, and associations at a European and global level
EUKN: How does the initiative of European Capital of Smart Tourism relate to other initiatives such as European Green Capital and the European Capital of Culture?
ECST: The European Capital of Smart Tourism is a stand-alone competition that is not connected directly with the mentioned initiatives. Holding a title of any of them also does not influence in any way the evaluation of the applicant cities for the European Capital of Smart Tourism title.
Some indirect synergies can be seen between these initiatives as cities aspiring for the title of the European Capital of Smart Tourism have to demonstrate their very good measures implemented in such areas as sustainability and cultural heritage & creativity, amongst others, but always in strong relation to tourism. The competition for European Capital of Smart Tourism is run for the first time this year and 38 applications were submitted from cities from 19 EU Member States, which is a very good result and shows high interest from cities.
EUKN: After the selection procedure, will the two selected European Capitals collaborate for further events/organisations?
ECST: It is planned that the European Capitals of Smart Tourism will implement their programmes of activities capitalising on the title they will bear for a year. It will be up to the cities to propose and implement these programmes.
The European Commission will facilitate networking between Capitals and with other cities participating in the competition. During the Award Ceremony, two winning Capitals and four cities receiving European Tourism Awards will be invited to hold together an exhibition to the audience coming from all over Europe.
Moreover, the initiative is aimed to enhance peer learning and exchange of best practices between cities. A dedicated report on good practices will be prepared in order to spread information about them and facilitating mutual learning.
To learn more about the European Capital of Smart Tourism, visit their website.