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Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs

The digital transition of tourism

As in every ecosystem of our economy and our society, digitalisation impacts and transforms tourism. Platforms, online payments, and social media – to give but a few examples – greatly impact how we live and do tourism. The European Commission pays close attention to this process to support the competitiveness, sustainability, and resilience of the tourism sector in the EU.

Support for destinations, SMEs and visitors

Defined as ‘Europe’s Digital Decade’, in 2021, the Commission presented a vision for Europe’s digital transformation by 2030. The digital compass evolves around four action areas, namely 

  • skilling and upskilling
  • secure and sustainable digital infrastructures
  • the digital transformation of businesses 
  • the digitalisation of public services

This ambitious strategy is the roadmap for the digital transition of the tourism sector in the EU, which can benefit all stakeholders.

Digital solutions for business 

Considering business opportunities, digitalisation inspires innovative models, solutions and ecosystems. It opens up new roles for consumers and producers, making way for start-ups and upscaling existing businesses. While also helping meet supply and demand.

Given that SMEs and micro enterprises make up the bulk of the business contribution to tourism, the Commission pursues all sectoral policies at EU level in close coordination with the supporting measures for SMEs. EU funding available for the tourism sector provides further support (see the Guide on EU funding for tourismthe Single Market Programme).

Digital solutions for the public sector and tourism managers

From the point of view of local authorities and destination management organisations (DMOs), digitalisation supports destinations in easing the impact of seasonal flows on local resources, infrastructures, transport systems, and services, thereby integrating arrivals seamlessly and sustainably. This can be particularly important for developing rural and remote destinations and ecosystems. It can also help to increase measurability and track trends, which can be a game changer for sustainable tourism strategies at local, regional, national, and EU levels.

Digital solutions for visitors 

For visitors, digitalisation can offer customised experiences, which can be enjoyed before, during and after a visit. It also has the potential to provide tourists with integrated, easy-to-use, remote information on services, offers, maps, events, experiences, available infrastructure, and sustainability and safety levels.

A key success factor for the uptake of digitalisation is the preparedness of stakeholders. That depends on skill levels and governance systems capable of creating synergies – between different actors, residents and visitors, levels of government, and also across sectors.

The Commission strongly focuses on helping to upskill and re-skill the sector’s workforce, notably in digital skills. 

As for innovative governance models, the Commission supports networks of cities that have already put effective mechanisms in place, or are contemplating doing so, staying in close contact and exchanging good practices.

In addition, one of the actions identified in the Transition Pathway for Tourism and the EU Agenda for Tourism 2030 to support the digitalisation of tourism SMEs and destinations is to develop a searchable inventory of existing transferable digital tools and practices. The Commission, with the assistance of an external contractor, developed a compendium of digital tools and practices based on submissions by SMEs, destinations, and other stakeholders, continuously updating it. Tourism stakeholders have free access to this inventory to support their efforts in developing a similar digital tool or practice for their destination or business.

Data management for tourism 

All digital developments evolve around access to data and strategic data management. Combining historical data with rapid real-time flows of often unstructured data (e.g. the streams of photos and videos generated by social network users) drives the competitiveness and sustainability of destinations.

Therefore, data management and its specificities in the tourism sector will depend on the access, use, reuse, and exchange of data. At the same time, expertise on what data is needed and how to use it in the tourism ecosystem should inform the governance of these important elements. 

As regards governance for data access, the European data strategy announced legislative measures to create the necessary overarching governance framework for a data-agile economy and to address common data-sharing issues between different sectors and domains. 

A pillar of this strategy is the European Data Governance Act proposed by the Commission in 2020. Among its priorities, the act aims to create EU-wide common, interoperable data spaces in strategic sectors to overcome legal and technical barriers to data sharing. The Commission is therefore looking into setting up an EU data space for tourism. In March 2022, we organised the first workshop tackling one of the key enablers for interoperability in the data space for tourism.

Facilitating data sharing

In September 2021, stakeholders in the tourism sector volunteered to prepare a code of conduct for data sharing in tourism to offer guidance and inspiration to the industry when envisaging a partnership or contractual agreement. 

The excitement over access to real-time information often overshadows the importance of policy indicators and high-quality, highly reliable statistics for analytics and evidence-based decision-making. At the same time, there is a need to improve the coverage of tourism statistics from basic figures on trips and overnight stays to data on tourism’s social, environmental and economic impacts. A combination of both offers the most comprehensive perspective on developments and trends and can profoundly impact policy change. 

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