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European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and Cohesion Fund

European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and Cohesion Fund

Why is it relevant to tourism?

To strengthen the environmental, socioeconomic sustainability and resilience of tourism in the long term, regions and countries are encouraged to help transform the sector by learning from innovative solutions. Investments in tourism are possible through all 5 policy objectives supported by the ERDF (see below), provided that they comply with the relevant objectives, enabling conditions, or minimum requirements established for the concerned policy objectives.

A specific objective under policy objective 4 (A more social and inclusive Europe) is dedicated to exploiting the full potential of culture and tourism for an economic recovery coupled with social inclusion and environmental and financial sustainability, without prejudice to the possibilities for support provided from the ERDF to those sectors under other specific objectives.

The Cohesion Fund can support tourism-related investments in environment and in the trans-European transport networks (TEN-T), in particular in regions with an economy heavily dependent on tourism.

Regarding European Territorial Cooperation (Interreg) programmes, tourism is expected to still be among the most popular topics. It can be addressed by a two-fold approach

  1. through the Interreg programmes (European Territorial Cooperation regulation)
  2. through the mainstream programmes 'embedding cooperation'

Overview of tourism-related components

Policy Objective 1: A more competitive and smarter Europe by promoting innovative and smart economic transformation and regional ICT connectivity

Specific objectives: All investments under this policy objective should contribute to a smart economic transformation. Investments under specific objective 1 (Developing and enhancing research and innovation capacities and the uptake of advanced technologies) and specific objective 4 (Developing skills for smart specialisation, industrial transition and entrepreneurship) should focus on the regional/national smart specialisation priority areas identified and developed during the entrepreneurial discovery process (EDP).

Innovation and uptake of new technologies for culture and tourism can be supported, as can the growth and competitiveness of SMEs in these sectors, or development, testing and piloting of new digital services, products and solutions (example: the digitisation of culture heritage), or the development of skills for smart specialisation.

Policy Objective 2: A greener, low-carbon transition towards a net-zero carbon economy and resilient Europe, green and blue investment, the circular economy, climate change mitigation and adaptation, risk prevention and management, and sustainable urban mobility

Specific objectives: Tourism can benefit from investments in energy efficiency, renewable energy, waste management and circular economy, green infrastructure, and sustainable urban mobility as well as adaptation to and mitigation of climate change, provided that these are in line with the relevant strategic framework. The objective of the investments will be to reduce the environmental and climate footprint of those sectors. In addition, the rehabilitation of industrial sites or contaminated land, and the protection of natural heritage and biodiversity may have indirect benefits in the field of culture and tourism.

Policy Objective 3: A more connected Europe by enhancing mobility

Specific objectives: Investments in transport infrastructure can contribute to sustainable tourism, provided that they are based on sound strategic framework, such as relevant transport plans. For example, investing in clean connectivity to and at tourist destinations, seeking to create favourable situations for sustainable transport and sustainable tourism through fostering cooperation between sectors (examples: integration of services for public transport, and cycling).

Policy Objective 4: A more social and inclusive Europe by implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights

Specific objectives: Policy objective 4.5 aims to support economic development, social inclusion and social innovation in culture and tourism. In this way, the scope of this specific objective provides for a broad area of action for using tourism and culture investments. EU countries and regions are encouraged to design these investments in a manner that will strengthen the environmental, social and economic sustainability and resilience of tourism and culture in the long term.

The supported actions should contribute to the economic and social development of areas relying heavily on a tourism ecosystem through the creation of resilient and sustainable jobs.  They should also provide more diversified services in tourism, seeking a positive impact on local communities and, where relevant, with the focus on the integration of deprived communities and the employment of people from vulnerable backgrounds.

Taking into account the need for skills development for labour market integration in tourism, actions addressing reskilling and upskilling can be supported by ESF+. These measures may complement ERDF-supported actions. Actions can be also closely coordinated with ESF+ measures to ensure human resources capacity development through vocational training and labour market support. However, any ESF+-type of reskilling and upskilling interventions in tourism under PO4 can be also supported by ERDF actions as part of a cross-financing proposal (up to 15% of an ERDF priority).

Policy Objective 5: A Europe closer to citizens by fostering the sustainable and integrated development of all types of territories and local initiatives

Specific objectives: This objective is a new, cross-cutting territorial policy objective for the integrated and sustainable development of cities and other territories, to address diverse interlinked territorial and local needs and challenges. Support under this objective entails a specific method of integrated territorial development that requires the development of integrated local/territorial strategies and the involvement of relevant urban/territorial bodies (local empowerment).

The focus of tourism investments under this policy objective is in its potential to foster local development and social and territorial cohesion through the involvement of local stakeholders and the consideration and participation of local communities in the projects.

In the case of specific objective 5.1, investments in tourism are either drivers or part of the sustainable integrated urban strategies (SUD). There is an 8% earmarking of the ERDF allocations to sustainable urban development. In case of specific objective 5.2, investments in tourism will tap on the endogenous potential of non-urban territories to foster economic and socially sustainable development. Finally, any investments under this policy objective must be achieved via territorial tools such as CLLD (Community-led local development) or ITI (Integrated Territorial Investment).  No enabling conditions apply to this objective, nor do the investments count for the thematic concentration.

Details of the programme

The ERDF aims to strengthen economic, territorial and social cohesion in the European Union by correcting development imbalances between its regions.

The Cohesion Fund targets the reduction of economic and social disparities through investment in environment and Trans-European Transport Networks (TEN-T). It covers EU countries whose Gross National Income (GNI) per inhabitant over the period 2015-2017 was less than 90% of the EU average. In 2021-2027 these are Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

ERDF and the Cohesion Fund, together with the European Social Fund Plus and the newly created Just Transition Fund, form the EU Cohesion Policy funds.

The ERDF and the Cohesion Fund will invest €234 billion in the EU's regions (respectively, €191 billion through ERDF and €43 billion through CF). The ERDF focuses its investments on several key priority areas known as 'thematic concentrations', i.e. innovation and research, the digital agenda, support for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), environment and the net-zero-carbon economy.

The Cohesion Fund will support environmental infrastructure and priority EU projects in Trans-European Transport Networks. It will also cover projects of energy efficiency, use of renewable energy or sustainable urban mobility presenting clear environmental benefits.

Additional information and how to apply

Example (s) of supported projects

Project Title: Aldeias Históricas de Portugal (AHP) [Historical Villages of Portugal]

Description: The Aldeias Históricas de Portugal (AHP) [Historical Villages of Portugal] is composed of 12 villages spread over 10 municipalities (5,315.39 km2). This project focused on training people with low skills to reintegrate into the job market, developing new business ideas specific to each village and revitalising existing abandoned and dilapidated buildings. It is based on urban and heritage regeneration initiatives and helping to create micro-businesses in the tourism sector. The project had been granted tourism status, with a special focus on cultural tourism given the heritage assets involved.

EU contribution: € 21,292

Level of EU funding: 85%

Link to project: Aldeias Históricas de Portugal (AHP) – revitalising villages through education and business development-Projects - Regional Policy - European Commission (europa.eu)

Project Title: Sardinia Observatory for Tourism, Craft and Commerce

Description: The project uses the potential of digitalisation to encourage innovation, economic growth, B2B and market competitiveness for Tourism, Crafts and Commerce in the region of Sardinia. The Observatory’s Tourist Movement Dashboard serves as an interactive system for analysing and displaying data on the movements of tourists in Sardinia, out of which annual trend reports are produced. The facilitated open data looks into tourist movements, broken down by reference markets, and on the capacity of accommodation facilities.

EU contribution: € 2.4 million (ERDF)

Level of EU funding: n/a

Link to project: Sardinia Observatory for Tourism, Craft and Commerce - Explore tourism in Sardinia

Project Title: Revitalisation of a former industrial complex 'Rikard Benčić' into a cultural district

Description: With the help of ERDF investment, an abandoned industrial area in Rijeka, Croatia, is being transformed into a modern cultural and tourism district housing the city’s museum, library, and a creative space for children. The investment forms part of the Rijeka 2020 European Capital of Culture project and is jointly funded by the ERDF, the city, and the national government. In line with changing urban needs and developments, the project promotes cooperation between 3 cultural entities and the institutions, in collaboration with Rijeka’s citizens for any further planning and development of the cultural district.

EU contribution: € 15,800,000

Level of EU funding: 44.4 %

Link to project: New cultural life for historic factory complex in Rijeka, Croatia-Projects - Regional Policy - European Commission (europa.eu)

Database of examples

Regional policy support to tourism actions | Data | European Structural and Investment Funds (europa.eu)