Europe is the world's leading tourist destination. Tourism plays a key role in the development of many European regions, in particular the less developed regions, due to its considerable spill-over and job creation potential, particularly for young people. Tourism has also shown considerable resilience and persistent growth even during the recent crisis.

The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) supports the competitiveness, sustainability and quality of tourism at regional and local levels. Tourism is of course closely connected to the use and development of natural, historical and cultural assets and to the attractiveness of cities and regions as places to live, work and visit. And it is of course also connected to the development, innovation and diversification of products and services to be acquired by and enjoyed by visitors.

2014-2020 programming period

Tourism has not been included as a thematic objective in the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) regulations as it constitutes a means or a sector rather than an objective. However the regulations foresee many possibilities for smart tourism investments.

The Commission has published a thematic guidance for tourism investments. It recommends that these:

  • are aligned with one or several of the thematic objectives and investment priorities.
  • are coherent with the SWOT analysis of the relevant national/regional/transnational OPs
  • focus on better valorising local cultural and tourism assets,
  • drive product, process and service innovation and diversification, as well as specialisation for niche markets, in order to overcome dependency on low added value, temporary work and ensure economic activity and jobs outside the tourist season.
  • Particular attention should be given to triple upgrading the capacity for excellence, innovation and internationalising of SMEs and clusters, (cross-) clustering activities, including through enhancing internal and external links.
  • As one of the particular advantages of the tourism sector is that barriers to market entry is particularly low, a focus should be put on support to entrepreneurship and new company creation.

Tourism will continue to play a prominent role in planned ERDF investment, as well as related investments into the conservation, protection, promotion and development of natural and cultural heritage (see graph), with about € 8 billion of planned ERDF allocation.

The eye@RIS3 database that documents the emerging landscape of regional smart specialisations in Europe (run by the Smart Specialisation Platform) shows that many regions are prioritising service innovation and business model innovation in tourism in their smart specialisation strategies and will allocate substantial funding towards that objective.

They will for instance focus their efforts on developing competitive niche markets and brand development, such as on tourism for the elderly (silver economy) or eco-tourism, upgrading their tourism value chains aiming for higher market segments, and diversify their tourism activities to become less depended from seasonal tourism.

These regions have comprehensive strategies in place not only for going towards higher added value by investing into tourism innovation but also by mobilising more spill-overs into other industries, such as cultural and creative industries, agro-food, construction, etc.