We are doing science for policy
The Joint Research Centre (JRC) is the European Commission's science and knowledge service which employs scientists to carry out research in order to provide independent scientific advice and support to EU policy.
JRC scientists have mapped tourism hotspots in Europe for all four seasons and created an index on the estimated vulnerability of regions to shocks in the tourism sector.
With travel becoming easier and less expensive, tourism has become an important economic sector in the European Union. In 2016, the EU had an estimated 40.5% market share of global international tourist arrivals.
The total contribution of the travel and tourism sector to the EU's GDP in 2016 was 10.2%, but with strong variation between countries, ranging from more than 20% in Malta, Croatia and Cyprus to about 5% in Poland, the Netherlands and Romania.
A recent JRC study looks at patterns of tourism in Europe. Scientists combined data from Eurostat, national statistical offices and major online booking systems to map tourist density in Europe.
"We built a complete and consistent dataset for the EU of tourism density patterns, by integrating both conventional statistical data and big data sources.
To the best of our knowledge, nothing of this kind has been done before, particularly for such a large geographical area as the whole of the EU", said JRC researcher Filipe Batista.
London, Paris, Berlin, Gran Canaria, Madrid, Tenerife, Rome, Prague, Vienna and Palma de Mallorca were identified as the locations in Europe that hosted the highest number of overnight tourists in 2016.
Among the top ten locations by tourist density, seven correspond to capital cities and the remaining three are beach destinations in Spain.
The picture changes slightly if we look at the tourist numbers for specific seasons. While many locations – in particular the big cities, the Alps, many parts of the Netherlands, Britain, west Germany and centre-north of Italy – are popular across the various seasons.
Some others – for instance the coasts of the Black and Adriatic Seas as well as the Greek, Italian and French islands – are mostly popular during the warm summer months.
Scientists also spotted how some locations in Ireland and Scandinavia are among the most attractive destinations during autumn or winter.
Scientists argue that a strong economic dependence on tourism associated with high concentration of that tourism to a specific season might make regions more vulnerable to shocks that may affect the tourism sector, such as economic crises, terrorist events, natural disasters or changing of climate conditions.
"Based on the assessment of regional vulnerability to tourism, cities seem to be less susceptible to shocks in the tourism sector than other areas because their dependence on tourism is relatively low and they are less affected by seasonality. Although these characteristics are generally acknowledged amongst tourism researchers, the dataset we produced allows the varying tourist density and intensity levels to be inspected at unprecedented high spatial and temporal resolutions, consistently for the whole of the EU-28", explains Filipe.
The areas that score high on the vulnerability index are coastal regions in the Mediterranean, Atlantic, Baltic and in the Black sea, mountainous areas both in the Alps and the Pyrenees, as well as most of the Mediterranean islands.
“To become more resilient, these regions should analyse what makes them vulnerable and try and reduce these factors as much as possible. Italy is actually an interesting case, with many of its regions scoring high in vulnerability”, Filipe comments.
The study aims to improve the existing knowledge base of current space and time distribution of tourism across the EU-28, in order to enable new insights and applications relevant to tourism management and policy.
It can also help regions to rethink their tourism strategies and build resilience to shocks affecting the tourism sector.
Sustainable cultural tourism is under the spotlight in 2018 thanks to the European Year of Cultural Heritage, which aims to encourage more people to discover Europe's cultural heritage and to reinforce a sense of belonging to a common European space.
It also offers an opportunity to promote sustainable use of our cultural heritage and evaluate the economic benefits of tourism. In Europe, tourism and cultural heritage are strongly interlinked.
According to a recent Eurobarometer survey, over two-thirds of the interviewed people considered that the presence of cultural heritage can influence the choice of their holiday destination.
A group of specialists from EU countries is examining sustainable cultural tourism practices across Europe. The combination of culture and tourism can be a powerful driver of economic activity if managed in a sustainable way so that communities and the actual cultural heritage remain intact.
Sustainable cultural heritage also refers to natural heritage and conservation areas under the European network Natura 2000. Therefore, on the occasion of the European Year of Cultural Heritage, synergies with the Natura 2000 network are being developed.
In March, the European Commission awarded 18 European destinations for their excellence in developing a tourism offer based on cultural heritage.
The Year also provides an opportunity to promote and improve the sustainability of Europe's cultural routes, notably the Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe, the trans-European Cultural Routes "World Heritage Journeys of the European Union" around UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Western Silk Road Tourism Development Initiative implemented by the UNWTO and the “Balkans Heritage Route”, implemented by the European External Action Service in the Western Balkan countries.
The European Commission has been supporting cultural tourism cooperation projects since 2014 under the Programme for the Competitiveness of Enterprises and SMEs (COSME) for a cumulated budget of around 5.5 million EUR.
For example, for the period 2018-2019, 6 transnational partnerships have been supported to develop and promote transnational tourism products linked to European cultural heritage and using Cultural and Creative Industries (CCIs) related technologies.
A new call for proposals to support ideas of projects exploiting synergies between tourism and CCIs will be launched in May/June 2018.