The European Tourism Forum promoted the Baltic Sea Region

The 12th European Tourism Forum in Vilnius promoted the Baltic Sea Region. Riga, Latvia and Umea, Sweden launch ‘European Capitals of Culture’ 2014

The EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region, one of the priorities of the Lithuanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union was debated at the 12th European Tourism Forum held in Vilnius.

The theme of the forum was “Tourism for Economic Growth, Social Change and Welfare.” The two-day event was held at The Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. The Forum is considered a strong platform to exchange best practices and experiences, to discuss challenges and opportunities, future perspectives, and changes in the tourism sector. In the article that follows, “Baltic Review” tells you what took place at the Forum in Vilnius, plus we will update you on the “European Capitals of Culture” 2014 program which highlights both Riga, Latvia and Umea, Sweden.

According to the organizers, “the 12th European Tourism Forum was an excellent opportunity to explore new ways to actively penetrate into and attract more tourists from the new emerging markets and discuss actions to promote Europe as a number one tourist destination in the world.”

In looking ahead to the year 2014, Latvia’s capital of Riga, and Sweden’s Northwestern city of Umea, will celebrate the cultural ties that will link Europeans together as “European Capitals of Culture.” Riga’s cultura programme will officially begin on January 17 with an exhibit on “Amber throughout the Ages” at the Museum of Natural History.

The launch of Umea will take place over the weekend of January 31 to February 2 with the opening “Burning Snow” ceremony, complete with Saami music, dance, and even a reindeer! As Androulla Vassiliou, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism, and Youth, stated: ‘the European Capitals of Culture initiative was set up to highlight the richness and diversity of European culture.”

Both Androulla Vassiliou and Latvian Andris Piebalgs, Member of the EC in charge of Development, will participate in various events such as the launch of “Taste and Feel 2014” which will offer the public a taste of the year’s cultural programmes.

During the 12th European Tourism Forum , “the contribution of tourism to economic development in the Baltic Sea Region under the Europe 2020 Strategy for Growth and Jobs” was addressed by Mrs. Andrea Herrmannsen, Director of the Department of Europe and International Affairs of the State Chancellery Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany.

Prominent speakers at the Forum included Evaldas Gustas, Minister of Economy of the Republic of Lithuania, Antonio Tajani, Vice-President of the European Commission (EC), Commissioner responsible for Industry, Entrepreurship and Tourism, Carlo Fidanza, MEP, European Parliament (EP), Committee on Transport and Tourism, Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), and Jan Lundin, Director General of the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS).

Representatives of previous and forthcoming EU presidencies (Ireland and Greece), namely, Ms. Seadhna Mac Hugh, Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Ireland, and Mrs. Catherine Kontoudaki, Head of the Department of European Union Affairs, Directorate of International Relations, Ministry of Tourism of Greece were invited to speak, as well, at this Forum.

According to the Minister of the Economy of Lithuania, Evaldas Gustas, “this Forum will allow us to exchange good practice, share plans for the future and make useful decisions. I strongly believe that those decisions will turn into concrete action or joint projects and will help prove that the tourism opportunities have a great potential for economic growth and social cohesion” he stated. Dr. Raimonda Balniene is the Director-General of the Lithuanian State Department of Tourism under the Ministry of the Economy in Vilnius.

As stated by Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO),” international tourism is an engine for economic recovery.” 

Based on a recent 2013 report, he said that in Europe, the world’s most visited region, international tourist arrivals grew by 6 percent led by above average results in Central and Eastern Europe (+7 percent) and Southern and Mediterranean Europe (+6 percent). 

This growth exceeds the initial forecast for 2013 and is double the average growth rate of international tourism in Europe since 2000. (+2.7 percent a year between 2000 and 2012).

He added, “it is particularly encouraging to see the strong results in many European destinations where the tourism sector is, undoubtedly, one of the engines of the economic recovery.”

The World Tourism Organization. a specialized agency of the United Nations, “is the leading organization in the field of travel and tourism It serves as a global forum for tourism policy issues and is a practical source of tourism know-how.” Its membership includes 156 countries, 6 associate members, and over 400 affiliate members representing local government, tourism associations, and private sector companies, including airlines, hotel groups, and tour operators. The UNWTO has its headquarters in Madrid, Spain.

The UNWTO often cooperates with different organizations to promote travel and tourism. For example, the UNWTO and the Swedish Travel and Tourism Industry Federation launched a joint project entitled, “Down to Earth for Tourism” at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development(Rio+20). The project is a Swedish initiative that is now being developed together with UNWTO and is generating international attention as a high-profile project that uses space missions and technologies as catalysts for innovation” says the UNWTO.

As Jan Lundin, CEO and Secretary-General of the Swedish Travel and Tourism Industry Federation (RTS) who attended the12th European Tourism Forum, stated: “Sweden is already among the top contenders for its innovation, space technologies, and sustainability.” The Swedish Travel and Tourism Industry Federation (RTS) is described as “a business organization that conducts business and development projects in partnership with players from the private and public sectors. “

At Session l of the Forum, the emphasis was on “Diversity of the European Tourism Products: From Competition to Co-operation.” The subject of: “Exploiting the potential of EU tourism diversity from the North to the South, including consumer trends which will shape the tourist’s choice” was addressed at this event, as well. Listed in the draft programme which was subject to change was Boris Zgomba, President of the European Travel Agents’ and Tour Operators Associations (ECTAA).

In addition, “Meetings industry in the EU –and the role played by destinations” was highlighted in the programme, too, with Professor Magda Antonioli, Bocconi University, Italy. “Rural tourism in the EU-Innovative concepts and thematic products (active tourism, nature, gastronomy, etc.) featuredAndy Woodward, President of EuroGites, UK. In addition, “Health Tourism in the EU – the evidence based treatment options in EU cross-border healthcare” was discussed by Laszlo Puczko of the Tourism Observatory for Health, Wellness and Spa, Hungary.

At Session II, the morning session opened up with “The Future of the EU Tourism Sector: Challenges and Opportunities.” There were statements on “Tourism development trends in the EU from the perspective of small countries” by Professor Dr. Ausrine Armaitiene, Tourism and Recreation Department of Klaipeda University, Lithuania. Professor John Lennon, Moffat Centre, UK spoke about “Experiences, needs and motivations of tomorrow’s tourists.” In addition, Mrs. Stefania Radici, the SAFE HOST Project Coordinator, EFFAT Tourism Sector, spoke on “Safe Host – Supporting European social partners to combat sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism.” Professor C. Michael Hall, PhD, and Visiting professor at Linnaeus University School of Business and Economics” in Sweden was scheduled to speak on environmental trends.

The debate on “European tourism in the world yesterday-today-tomorrow” was scheduled with Ms. Isabel Garana, Regional Director for Europe, UNWTO. In addition, Alain Dupeyras, OECD, Head of the Tourism Unit, Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs and Local Development (CFE) was on the program to discuss “Tourism taxation: benefit for countries economy or boundaries for tourists and business.” “Regional and urban policy and financial support for tourism for the period 2014-2020” was covered by Jean-Marc Venineaux, Policy Officer, Unit “Competence Centre Macro-regions and European Territorial Co-operation – Transnational and Interregional Co-operation”. Directorate General for Regional and Urban Policy, European Commission (EC).

As stated earlier in this report, the contribution of tourism to economic development in the Baltic Sea Region under the Europe 2020 Strategy for Growth and Jobs, was presented by Mrs. Andrea Herrmannsen, an open discussion followed, and closing remarks were made by a conference rapporteur.

The Forum also looked into funding possibilities for tourism under the new financial period 2014-2020, initiatives on senior tourism, and simplifying short-term visas. In addition, many participants enjoyed the walking tour of the Old Town of Vilnius, a UNESCO World Heritage site, dinner in Vilnius City Hall, a trip to Trakai Castle, and a national evening at Vilnius University with Lithuanian food, music, and dance.

All in all, the 12th European Tourism Forum certainly delivered a well-rounded program focused on “Tourism as a Force for Economic Growth.”

The Signing Ceremony of the Protocol on Amendments to the Agreement among the Government of the Republic of Lithuania, the Government of the Republic of Estonia, and the Government of the Republic of Latvia on cooperation in the field of tourism was enthusiastically received at the event. There was also a signing ceremony of the UNWTO Global Code of Ethics for the private sector.