Europe is the most visited continent worldwide, welcoming half of the world’s international tourist arrivals. This ensures that coastal tourism (which includes marine tourism) is the most mature and growing industry in the EU Blue Economy in terms of gross value added (GVA) and employment.
Coastal tourism includes beach-based tourism and recreational activities (such as swimming and sunbathing) and other activities that benefit from being near the sea, (such as coastal hikes and animal watching). In contrast, maritime tourism refers to water-based activities and nautical sports such as sailing, scuba diving, and cruising. Coastal locations in the EU generate a significant tourism sector, with 50% of hotel bed capacity concentrated in places with a sea border. As a result, tourism ranks third in terms of employment, growth, and social development in Europe.
Tourism occupies a vital place in the economy of many EU Member States, and has a wide-ranging impact on economic growth, employment and social development. Tourism is particularly significant for countries in Southern Europe, such as Spain, Portugal, Italy, Malta and Greece.
Coastal tourism, like the main tourism industry, faces several challenges, including greening its operations, reducing negative impacts on the marine environment, and being vulnerable to exogenous shocks such as commodity and fuel price inflation. On top of all that, the industry is still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before the health crisis, the annual GVA by tourism in the EU was expected to be EUR 787 billion in 2020. Overall, tourism accounts for 10% of the EU's GDP and employs 2.4 million people, of which over 90% work in SMEs.
To deal with the challenges, the European Commission published the Tourism Transition Pathway involving all tourism stakeholders. The updated Industrial Strategy (2021) calls for the acceleration of green and digital transformation to increase the European economy's resilience.
The strategy also identifies 27 initiative areas for the green and digital transition to improve tourism in the EU.These include;
Regulation and public governance, which includes; improving statistics and indicators for tourism and comprehensive tourism strategies.
Green and digital transition, which includes; research and innovation projects on circular and climate-friendly tourism and support for digitalisation of tourism SMEs and destinations.
Resilience, which includes; seamless cross-border travelling, fostering skills in tourism, promoting fairness and equality in tourism jobs, and accessibility.
As part of the EU Sustainable Blue Economy, the coastal and maritime tourism sector has been identified as an area with potential to foster a smart, sustainable and inclusive Europe. The EU's tourism policy aims to keep Europe's position as a leading tourist destination while also maximising the industry's contribution to economic growth and jobs.
However, the rise in tourist numbers has brought issues, and many locations - particularly coastal areas and small islands - are working to develop long-term solutions to the high tourism intensity. Demographic change, sustainability, and innovation are all issues to be addressed.
Recent studies, show that tourists are willing to spend more for safer vacations and are looking for more environmentally friendly vacation options, especially in light of the COVID-19 crisis. For many experts in the business, this is a game-changing opportunity that will lead to greater and faster adoption of more sustainable environmental solutions and greater respect for coastal natural and cultural qualities of coastal areas. The European Green Deal and the new EU Sustainable Blue Economy can help in such green transitions, thanks to policy reforms, specific financial mechanism, as well as innovation, digitalisation, education and training.