Interview with Ms. Valentina Superti, Director of tourism and proximity at DG GROW

1. Let us first congratulate you on your new role as Director of tourism and proximity at DG GROW. We are glad that the European Commission appointed a Director in charge of tourism and look forward to a continued collaboration to help the industry get back to pre-coronavirus levels. In this regard, what are your expectations for the upcoming summer season, and how long do you foresee it will take for the sector to recover after COVID-19? 

I share my hopes and expectations for the upcoming summer season with most of you – to be able to travel and enjoy a more “normal” summer. Thanks to the great efforts made by all – Member States, industry, the many SMEs operating in tourism, and the European institutions – the tourism ecosystem has a window of opportunity to reboot and recover.  Of course, the situation remains difficult and worrisome. Nevertheless, I believe that we finally can see a light at the end of the tunnel.

While the vaccination campaigns are accelerating across Europe, the Green Digital certificate aims to facilitate smooth travelling across borders and the voluntary sanitary seal for EU tourism and hospitality establishments, recently finalised by the European Committee for Standardization (CEN), should boost travellers’ confidence.

The Commission has also been operating the “Re-Open EU” platform and app almost for a year now. It centralises up-to-date travel information from Member States in an interactive map. Its website is a great success, with over 10 million visits since last June. With its new, “journey planning” functionality, it will continue providing reliable information on the pandemic and various restrictions and rules in place.

Obviously, we need to think beyond the summer season, longer-term. We know that the full recovery of the tourism ecosystem will take time; how long is impossible to say, but some experts estimate that 2019 levels will only be reached by 2024.

In this context, it has to be reminded that, since the outbreak of the pandemic, the EU has provided unprecedented emergency support for tourism: injecting liquidity, making full use of the flexibility of state aid rules and launching a temporary unemployment programme. The Recovery and Resilience Facility and the new Multiannual Financial Framework are also aimed at supporting the recovery.

The key to tourism recovery is collaboration and a forward-looking responsible attitude. We want to build back tourism activities in a socially, economically, environmentally and culturally sustainable manner. Current challenges for sustainable tourism include a still not sufficient level of awareness of the sustainability challenge, there is a need for new skills, there is a diversity of available sustainability schemes, in addition to the seasonal dependency of regions on tourism, and a lack of common tools to measure and compare progress. For example, it is estimated that up to 25% of jobs in tourism are in need of upskilling and reskilling. In order to support the green and digital transition of the tourism ecosystem, the Commission is pursuing a Pact for Skills as a shared engagement model in the tourism ecosystem. This is one of the measures where we are calling for the private sector to collaborate.

2. Earlier this month, the European Commission updated its European Industrial Strategy: can you explain to us what is the Commission’s objective for tourism and how the upcoming strategy will help rebuild the sector and lay a strong foundation for the future?

With the update of the European Industrial Strategy, the Commission presents a more assertive approach to realise the industrial ambition we share for our continent. It includes a number of aspects that are particularly relevant for the tourism ecosystem – such as the strong focus on SMEs. We must protect them from unnecessary administrative constraints and take into account their needs: recapitalisation and support in the triple transition: green, digital and resilient. We, therefore, propose to focus on their financing, with dedicated capital support and a new Solvency Support Instrument.

Furthermore, the Strategy features an analysis of the tourism ecosystem and announces “transition pathways” for industrial ecosystems co-created with stakeholders. These pathways will identify the actions needed to achieve the green and digital transitions. Given the important impact of the crisis on the tourism sector, and the need to accelerate its recovery, the first transition pathway will be devoted to tourism. The cooperation of HOTREC and its members will be instrumental to the setting out of this pathway.

3. As Director of tourism and proximity, you have a wide-ranging portfolio, with digitalization and innovation being key priorities. What is your take on the digital and green transition and its impact on European tourism? How can data underpin a more resilient, safe, and reassuring experience for tourists? What role can the Commission play in ensuring a level playing field across the sector?

We all know that the capacity of tourism businesses to transform has been dented by the pandemic. But from what I see, there is eagerness from the industry to seize the opportunities of the green and digital transition. This also reflects changing consumer needs: tourists are increasingly looking for greener holidays, less crowded destinations, we want to be closer to nature and leave a lower environmental footprint. A major challenge I see for tourism businesses is how to leverage this change and turn it into opportunities.

Further private-public investments must be mobilised to support the transition. In this endeavour, the EU funds from the Recovery and Resilience Facility and the new Multiannual Financial Framework can play a crucial role. We hope that Member States and the tourism industry will seize these unprecedented opportunities.

We will be doing our best to help. To assist tourism stakeholders in accessing the financing opportunities in the coming years and identifying the right tools of support, the Commission launched on 12 May a new online guide to the EU funding for tourism. This guide promotes the broad variety of funding opportunities available for public and private tourism actors, not forgetting the SMEs.  I hope this guide will be helpful to as many tourism businesses as possible.

4. Over the past year, HOTREC teamed up with industry partners in the tourism and hospitality ecosystem to help bring hope to millions of companies, SMEs, and workers. We stand  #TogetherForHospitalityto contribute to its recovery. Can you address a message to our sector and the organizations supporting it at these difficult times? 

We all know that the pandemic crisis has hit hard the tourism sector and that this has affected millions of jobs and families. We also know that travelling and freedom to travel are important for Europeans.

At the same time, we are in a crucial moment for the transformation of the tourism ecosystem. We have the momentum of the recovery, the need for change driven by citizens, the awareness of Member States and the availability of EU funds.

Tourism and hospitality companies will recover from the pandemic; I warmly invite the HOTREC sector and organizations to be part of the change, by making choices that respect nature, culture and the needs of the citizens and tourism enterprises for a safe and sustainable European hospitality sector.