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Building a tourism portal for Europe

European Tourism Portal project
   

The European Commission has just awarded a contract to develop a ‘European Tourist Destinations Portal’. By 2006, this IDA-funded project will provide quick and easy access to tourism-related information and services for the whole continent, and will help strengthen and enhance Europe’s position as the number one tourist destination worldwide.


The Resolution on the future of European tourism, adopted by the Council of the EU on 21 May 2002, invited the Commission, Member States and other tourism stakeholders to adopt measures to strengthen the position and image of Europe as a diverse set of destinations, and to make use of information and communication technologies (ICT) for the implementation of their initiatives. The development of a pan-European tourism portal was subsequently proposed and included in the eEurope 2005 Action Plan adopted in Seville in May 2002.

The rationale for the tourism portal lies in the need to build adequate tools to promote European destinations towards potential tourists interested in visiting several European countries. In order to prepare their journeys, these potential tourists currently have to log on to several sites and retrieve information from diverse sources. Each country indeed has a website for the promotion of its own national tourist destinations, with additional regional and local sites in many cases. These sites (national, regional, local) have often been designed independently one from the other both from a technical and content point of view. Therefore, the services and content they provide to assist potential visitors vary widely, resulting in a sub-optimal exploitation of Europe’s tourism potential.

Tourists planning a journey across several European countries, particularly those coming from outside Europe, would benefit from a better service if provided with a single entry point to Europe’s tourism information and services. This is what the European Tourist Destinations portal aims to deliver: starting in 2006, potential tourists will be able to prepare their journeys in Europe by simply logging on to VisitEurope.com.

Currently providing tourism information for the North American market, VisitEurope.com is managed by the European Travel Commission (ETC), the association of national tourism organisations (NTO). The site features a limited number of services (languages, themes, etc) and mainly provides links to national websites. The new portal will provide a much wider range of services and will go much further in integrating with national sites.

Each Member State will remain fully responsible for its own site, its content and its interoperability with the regional/local ones. But the European portal will provide a common user interface layer and quick and easy access to all relevant information, whether it is located on the portal itself or on national or regional partner sites. From a technical point of view, a semantic-based interoperability framework will be defined to exchange and disseminate information within the network of partner sites. The portal should thus help to promote the use of common standards for tourism content, building on tools developed as part of EU-funded R&D projects such as ‘Harmonise’.

VisitEurope.com should also contribute to the emergence of common user interfaces for navigation and languages. The portal’s interface will be designed to facilitate the user's dialogue and retrieval of information, and it will take into account the accessibility requirements for users with special needs. The portal will initially be available in six European languages (English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian), and the development of a natural-language user interface is also being envisaged. The portal’s architecture, based on the IDA Architecture Guidelines, will allow functional evolutions to take place, in particular to add third generation mobile services.

In April 2004 the European Commission appointed a consortium led by Austria’s EC3 (Electronic Commerce Competence Center) to develop the portal. The project is structured in two phases. The main tasks of the consortium during phase I (until November 2004) will be to define, together with the national tourism organisations from 34 ETC member countries, what contents and services should be offered on the portal. The result will consist in the design of the portal’s architecture and the preparation of its implementation. On the basis of these results the Commission, in cooperation with the Member States, will decide on the opportunity to launch the second phase of the project for the development of the portal.

IDA’s planned funding for the European Tourist Destinations Portal will amount to € 1.95 million, of which 0.65m for the development and validation phase (until November 2004) and 1.3m for the implementation phase (from December 2004 to September 2005). The results of the project will then be transferred to the ETC, which will operate the portal and support the costs for managing it (currently estimated to € 0.5m for the first twelve months) from the end of 2005 onwards.

By facilitating access to better, more accurate and complete tourism information and services at pan-European level, the European tourism portal will directly benefit potential tourists. But it will also help national tourism authorities integrate new technology-based services with their existing information services, while bringing more visitors to their websites. However, the main beneficiaries will ultimately be Europe’s tourism destinations and businesses. By increasing their visibility, the portal will indeed help to convert potential tourists into effective visitors, therefore providing additional growth to a sector that directly employs about 8 million people in the EU, representing roughly 5% of total employment and of GDP and 30% of total external trade in services.

Further information can be found on the European tourism portal project website:
http://etd.ec3.at/


Article published in the IDA Report 22 - June 2004