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Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs

The regulation of tourism activity in Europe

Which tourism businesses are affected by regulations?

The tourism industry 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, you need to know not only about legislation affecting the tourism industry, but also about other general legislative measures that are applicable to your activity.

What kind of legislation affects the tourism industry?

There are many pieces of sectorial legislation that can have an impact on businesses in the tourism industry. See some important examples below.

Land use planning

When starting your business in an area – for example, building a hotel, you must meet the urban requirements and apply for 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.

Health and food safety

If your tourism business serves food and drink – such as a restaurant or coffee shop – or if provides a service – such as a hotel - then you must carefully review food safety standards. These apply to where you source your products from, as well as the hygiene and cleanliness of the premises and your employees. The European Food Safety Authority (ESFA) is the cornerstone of EU risk assessment regarding food safety. EFSA can 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 how much, where and when employees can work, as well as on topics such as job security mechanisms. You must know and apply this legislation to your company’s human resource management. The EU is working towards a high level of employment and social protection, as well as universally improved living and working conditions.


Whatever the purpose of your business, it will have an impact on the environment. For this reason, you must evaluate the relevant legislation and include measures to mitigate or eliminate this impact. Check what environmental requirements you must meet before you start your pursuits. Establish measures to prevent or minimise possible negative effects on your surroundings.


Tourism regulations have always been closely linked to the protection of the consumer. The EU has specific legislation 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 defend their interests.


Other regulations that must be taken into account before beginning any tourism-related activity are those connected to the topics of tax and the protection of cultural heritage.

Which regulations should I be aware of?

The rights and obligations of 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

Your tourism business may be classified in a different way 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.
In some countries – such as Germany and Austria – this classification is not regulated by law. Instead, it is defined by hotel associations.

Infrastructure requirements

This 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.

What kinds of legislation affect the management of tourism businesses?

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 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.

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 or allowing over-booking

How are tourists affected by legislation?

Tourism legislation also governs the rights and obligations of the users of tourism services. Adhering to these covers you from a legal perspective. It also ensures the most positive user experience for your clients. The EU provides information about the rights and obligations of tourists.

Further reading on legislation in the tourism sector