Tourism has been one of the largest and fastest growth sectors in recent decades, making a significant contribution to GDP and employment across European countries and globally. Tourism has a marked territorial dimension through its uneven spatial distribution and diverse impact on the dynamics of regional development and convergence.
In this context, regional policy has an important potential role to play in correcting territorial imbalances caused by the spatial concentration of tourism activities, spreading their benefits across territories, and capitalising on tourism as an engine for regional growth. This role is facilitated by the cross-overs which exist between tourism and regional policy in several areas including governance mechanisms, strategic frameworks, and policy measures.
COVID-19 has had a severe impact on tourism across European regions, producing asymmetrical and highly localised effects, with important implications for regional development and policy. The pandemic disproportionately affected some of the more vulnerable and structurally weak tourism regions and increased the risk of exacerbated territorial disparities. Changing territorial patterns of tourism flows have created new regional development opportunities but also raised capacity issues for regions affected by increased tourism demand. Further, the pandemic has highlighted some of the long-term, structural challenges facing tourism, and pointed to the unsustainable nature of tourism growth in some areas. This has stressed the urgency of re-considering the policy approach to tourism.
Regional policy has an important role in driving sustainable tourism recovery post-COVID, as well as supporting a more sustainable and resilient tourism economy more generally.
There are many ways in which regional policy has and can support sustainable tourism transitions across Europe. These include: mainstreaming sustainability as part of regional development strategies; supporting the long-term development of the most vulnerable territories and driving sustainable tourism as a means of place-based territorial development; building resilience and spreading the benefits of tourism across territories through diversifying destinations and value chains; supporting long-term improvements in tourism infrastructure and connectivity; promoting a green and climate-resilient tourism economy; facilitating digital transitions; promoting the quality and sustainability of jobs; and strengthening horizontal and vertical policy coordination at the interface of tourism and regional policy.