Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs

Regulation of tourism activity in Europe

Regulation of tourism activity in Europe

Due to its transversal nature, tourism is not only subject to specific tourism regulations, but also to regulations primarily designed for other areas (such as the environment, consumer protection, and the preservation of cultural and historical heritage).

For this reason, it is not sufficient to only be up-to-date on tourism legislation. You also need to know about other general legislative measures that are applicable to your activity.

To find out more about general legislation, we will now discuss the following topics:

Specific tourism legislation

Tourism legislation regulates the following aspects: tourism companies, tourism management and tourism users.

Tourism companies

Most legislation differentiates types of businesses according to their subsector, such as:

  • accommodation companies
  • restaurants
  • intermediary and complementary services

All of these are regulated.

Aspects that are legally regulated

The rights and obligations of the different companies

These include the right to terminate a contract, or the obligation to inform the user of the conditions of service.

Types and classifications of establishments

There are different classifications depending on the company and the country legislating. This variety is significant in the case of hotels, where legislation on hotel accommodation focuses on establishing a ranking according to infrastructure, services, location, etc. – but it is not a common factor on a European or a national level.

In some countries – such as Germany, Austria and Switzerland – this classification is not regulated by law. Instead, it is defined by hotel associations.

Infrastructure requirements

This aspect relates to the classification of tourism companies. It identifies different facilities and characteristics that establishments must have (especially for hotels, restaurants and cafes).

For example, higher-end hotels must comply with stricter requirements than lower-end hotels. Some of these requirements include standardisation of room size, services, facilities and equipment. 

Tourism management

This legislation regulates different functions and interventions of management in tourism businesses.

Main aspects regulated by tourism management

Organisation and responsibilities

General laws for tourism in each country or state refer to the organisations that are responsible for tourism. It can be very useful to know which agency to request information from.

Planning of the tourism offering

Tourism legislation covers how the public sector (public administration in the area of tourism) plans and promotes destinations. Tourism planning determines what exists in your area – so you know what is available to help to improve your own offering.

Promoting tourism

Tourism legislation states who is responsible for tourism promotion in your area, as well as what general promotional organisations exist. Contacting these promotional organisations could be of interest to your company because:

  • they may have joint marketing mechanisms with companies that can help with putting together a destination guidebook or arranging attendance at fairs
  • you could better adapt the promotion of your company to the destination’s promotion strategy – for example, if you have a rural hotel and destination strategy that promotes ornithology, incorporate these elements into your offering and take advantage of synergies

Tourism inspection

In most general tourism legislation, there are sections that establish:

  • tourism inspection competencies
  • planning for an inspection
  • employer obligations to cooperate with the inspectors

Sanctioning regime

It is important to be fully aware of which offences fall under which applicable departments and pieces of legislation. You must also understand the penalties you can face by committing any of the offences.

These offences include:

  • deficiencies in the provision of tourism services
  • missing emblems showing the administrative category of the establishment
  • allowing over-booking
  • clandestine provision of tourism services

Remember that ignorance of the law and of offences does not exempt you from a penalty.

Tourism users

This is the tourism legislation that governs the rights and obligations of the users of tourism services. Adhering to these covers you from a legal perspective, and also ensures the most positive user experience for your clients.

The EU provides information about the rights and obligations of tourists.

Sectorial legislation affecting the tourism sector

You should keep in mind at all times the great variety of sectorial legislation that may affect your tourism activity.

Sectorial legislation that could affect your tourism activity

Land-use planning

When implementing tourism activity in an area (for example, the construction of a hotel), you must meet the urban requirements in force, and apply the appropriate planning permission.

It is important to consult the legislation and management plans in detail, as there may be limitations on the use of land in certain coastal or natural protected areas. For example, many of these places limit tourism activities to certain areas of the territory.

Health and food safety

If your tourism activity is a hotel, restaurant or coffee shop, you must carefully review food safety standards. These are related to product source as well as the hygiene and cleanliness of the facility and your employees.

The European Food Safety Authority (ESFA) is the keystone of the EU risk assessment regarding food safety. It works in close collaboration with national authorities and in open consultation with its stakeholders – EFSA can then provide independent scientific advice and clear communication on existing and emerging risks. EFSA’s independent scientific advice underpins the European food safety system.


Each country has its own rules for the regulation of labour contracts and job security mechanisms. You must know and apply this legislation to your company’s human resource management.

The EU has worked towards achieving:

  • a high level of employment and social protection
  • improved living and working conditions
  • economic and social cohesion

The Commission controls the transposition of EU law and systematically checks to ensure that it is correctly implemented. One of the main areas covered by EU labour law is working conditions.


Your business generates an impact on the environment that forces you to evaluate legislation and to include measures to mitigate or eliminate this impact. 

Check what environmental requirements you must meet before you start your activity. Establish measures to prevent or minimise possible negative effects on your surroundings.


Tourism regulations have always been closely linked to the protection of the tourist or consumer. The EU has specific legislation on the provision of the service to make sure tourists are not left defenceless when faced with problems. This regulation is of great interest if your company is a travel agency or any type of intermediary agency.

The European policy in favour of consumers aims to safeguard the health, safety and interests of consumers, as set out in Article 169 of the treaty on the functioning of the EU. This policy promotes consumers’ rights to information and education, and their right to organise to defend their interests. 

Other legislation

Other regulations that must be taken into account in any activity are to do with tax and taxation, and the protection of cultural heritage.

Recommended reading

See an overview of the European legislation impacting tourism.