5 March , 2015, 'The Square' Conference centre, Brussels

 

(check against delivery)

 

MEP Meissner,

Ladies and gentlemen,

 

Welcome

I would like to welcome you all to Brussels. I'm very happy to open these two days of dialogue with you and want to thank you sincerely for being here.

We are treading on new ground here, so I’m glad to see representatives of the industry, of port authorities, of many regional and national bodies, all together under one roof.

 

Blue Growth and Tourism, the Dialogue

Why are we here?

As Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, I feel very strongly the urgency of getting Europe growing again. I know there are many challenges, but I choose to focus on the positive: the opportunities.

 

Perhaps the most exciting opportunity lies in this idea to use the many resources that our seas and ocean have to offer to go for a smarter, cheaper, cleaner kind of growth… in short for Blue Growth.

And it doesn’t take a huge leap to go from that idea to coastal and maritime tourism. It is after all the strongest maritime asset we have.

It is an industry that works well; that shows resilience to external blows; that brings work to many and leisure to many more.

But the world is changing. And in the face of an increasingly demanding public and harsh competition, we’d better be a step ahead all the time.

This is why the Commission has issued a Strategy on Coastal and Maritime Tourism that should help the sector adapt in real time to this fast-changing context.

As a follow-up to the Strategy, we are launching today the Dialogue for cruise tourism. This Dialogue is meant to help us secure Europe's position as a cruise destination of excellence in the world.

 

These two days are about the sector – about you. This is the time to put your needs, your problems and your ideas on the table. It is the time for all of you to you to build bridges, round corners and find a common ground.

So let me go first.

 

The European cruise industry

There is no denying that things are going well for the cruise sector: almost 340 thousand jobs, 12 thousand of which generated in one of the worst recession years – 2013.

In terms of output, the sector is overcoming the crisis at unequalled speed.

While the Mediterranean remains a favourite destination, more and more passengers visit the Baltic. Up North, in Scotland, the Orkney Islands are breaking new records every year.

Al this is very positive. And we have to advantage of the splendid economic opportunities – for cruise operators, for travel agents, for ports, for seafarers and so on – to pause and ask ourselves some questions:

 

-       in an tourism operation, there are benefits, mostly economic + financial, and there are costs, mostly social and environmental.

- doesn’t some kind of social & environmental responsibility come with the financial benefit?

- and, as operators, how can you share in both benefits and costs?

 

Tourist flows

For instance, coming from Malta, and with more than a passing interest in tourism, I know what the Grand Harbour can be like on a day with several cruise ships touching port.

It is very positive to see ancient towns flooded with tourists several days a week.  But doesn’t that pose logistical issues, doesn’t it contribute to overcrowding or air and noise pollution?

Unless all this is managed, it gets on the nerves of the locals, and it can also mar the overall experience for the tourists themselves.

This is exactly what destinations do not want.

We don’t want the visitor to think 'never again'. On the contrary, we want to incite them to come back for their next holiday!

We also want those 6 million passengers cruising along our coasts and islands every year to feel good and spend a bit of money when they touch port.

For that, we need cruise operators, travel agents, ports, city councils, tour operators and service providers to come together and to discuss these issues.

  • To find ways to diversify the offer, or have several operators come together to create innovative integrated programmes for the visitor’s stay.
  • To find ways to improve connections between ports and inland cities or attractions.
  • To improve service quality and obtain a skilled, customer-oriented and multilingual workforce not just in hotels and restaurants, but everywhere in town.
  • And to develop indicators for the quality of the visitor’s experience or for the quality of life of the locals.

Sharing the burden means finding coordinated, articulate solutions that make the experience not just smooth, but memorable for the visitor.

 

Waste

Another example. A ship carrying 3000 passengers produces 50 to 70 tonnes of solid waste per week –not to mention the amount of wastewater.

What happens to all that solid waste? You know more than I do.

There is no way we can let even a single one end up littering the sea!  The problem of marine litter is getting out of hand.

But at the same time, it should not befall on cruise liners alone to find solutions either. Waste management is a chain.

To begin with, passenger and crew need to learn to separate waste appropriately.

Ports need to upgrade their infrastructure to be able to process the waste received.

Then the companies retrieving the waste from ports and disposing of it need to be made accountable.

In sum, the key lies in implementing and enforcing the legislation we already have, such as the Port Reception Facilities Directive.

Now that you are here, you can perhaps find ways to share the burden of waste management. You can learn from each other or crate alliances to deal with waste streams more effectively.

Ports

Moving on: with not just cruise ships, but also ferries and recreational boats competing for berthing space, ports need to provide for safe and fair planning.

I do understand that a regional booking plan is a very sensitive matter and people are still reluctant to show their hand. There are still some trust issues.

But on the other hand everybody admits they would benefit from some forward planning and co-ordination.

I suggest today we take the bull by the horns. Let's hear what each of us has to say, let's see what exactly stands in the way of improving our operation and let's brainstorm on how to go past it.

Perhaps we won't find a solution today, but I will follow this up at regional level, to go deeper into the specific issues of each region.
 

 

Inclusiveness, fair share

Ladies and gentleman, I have talked about sharing the burden; but I come to the crucial point I want to make, which is about sharing the benefits.

What does cruise tourism really mean for our maritime regions?

What's in it for those who live on the coast? How do we guarantee that there is a real return for them?

The way I see it, tourism too is a chain.

From our operators to hotels, from souvenir shops to hairdressers, from art galleries to local wine producers – all need to share in the gains.

And this is why our dialogue must include them too. In today's interconnected world, businessmen cannot lull themselves into thinking they can operate in a vacuum.

On the contrary, the more you contribute to the economy, the more benefits come back to you.

The same goes for the environment: it benefits everybody, but it is also everybody's responsibility.

 

Environmental issues

It is no coincidence that we have devoted an entire session to the environmental aspects of cruise tourism today.

We need innovative solutions to reduce the impact on destinations. We need greener ships; we need greener ports; we need greener cities.

Besides, research shows that your very customers are coming keen on sustainability and expect tourism providers to be environmentally correct.

So please don't see sustainability as a moral obligation, just something you have to pay lip service to just for the sake of doing so.

Sustainability is what will keep you in business.

Either you keep the sea clean, the islands pristine, and the ancient heritage intact or you might as well break the branch you're sitting on.

Conclusion

Ladies and gentlemen, I say these two days are about you and I mean it.

What is it you need for your business: a tailored-made network for a specific sea-basin? A steering group on cruising? Do you need ports to do more or inland cities to be more involved?

We have a unique mix of stakeholders here. Grad this opportunity and start interacting.

I know it's never been done before. Some of you are in competition with each other and there is nothing wrong in that.

But I am convinced that it is only through some form of cooperation that we can solve today's and tomorrow's problems, like congestion in ports, or better connections between ports and the hinterland.

The time has come to go the extra mile, to make a collective effort. We all have a vested interest in working towards a bigger, a more sustainable, a more competitive and a more inclusive cruise tourism for Europe.

And as we do that, I am sure we'll find we'll be going in the direction of Blue Growth – and in the direction of a better economic future for Europe, for our children and for us all.

Thank you and I wish you a fruitful dialogue