Dolores Semeraro speaks to European Travel Commission ETC Iulia Niculica, Head of Administration, as shares what are the new drivers for choosing Europe today, where are travellers coming from and what type of locations do they favor and who is winning the sustainability race.
Her journey in the travel and tourism sector started 9 years ago when she came to Brussels to work for the European Travel Commission (ETC), which is an organisation representing National Tourism Organisations of European countries.
ETC has a unique mandate – which is to promote Europe as a tourism destination in long-haul markets.
Over these past 9 years, she had the opportunity to deal with numerous projects of the association (in marketing and advocacy), work with EU funds and on financial matters, manage public procurement, manage relationships with National Tourism Organisations and the European Commission, as well as facilitate partnerships and affiliations with external organisations.
In her current role at ETC, she responsible for leading the organisation’s department in charge of administration and financial operations, membership matters, EU funding, and partnerships with external organisations from the cultural and heritage sector.
Season 3 Episode 55
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About Dolores Semeraro
Hello! I am a Hospitality and Tourism Communication Expert and Speaker with 15 years of industry experience. For the past 20 months, I have helped tourism organizations and travel professionals restore travel confidence and restart their tourism businesses.
I focus on tourism marketing strategies, hospitality digital marketing and communication, and tourism innovation in every keynote, training, or coaching session I deliver across the industry.
You can learn more about me by listening to my travel recovery podcast called ‘Truth Behind Travel’ where I interview tourism industry leaders and travel experts on the core topic of the Future of Travel
Thank you for joining me today on Truth Behind Travel Podcast, did you enjoy today’s episode? Every conversation brings tips, values, and strategies to help you start your travel recovery journey.
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Hello! I am Dolores Semeraro and today I welcome you all to episode 55 of Truth Behind travel Podcast, an episode dedicated to a destination that is very dear to me and that I am actually taking the time to discover as a slow traveler these days.
I am talking about DESTINATION EUROPE!
And because Europe is so diverse and literally made of many different countries, I asked myself, where to start?
When it comes to promote Europe as a Destination, the team at The European Travel Commission in Brussels is dedicated to put forward what makes Europe so unique.
And not just that, Horizon 2022, which is the name of their leading marketing strategy, actually put the passions and needs of the travellers first. Meaning, they are committed in communicating about Europe in such a way that the right traveler will find its way to the right location. A good destination fit for each person?
Is it possible? I had to know more.
Today on the podcast I have the pleasure of welcoming Iulia Niculica, Head of Administration at ETC European Travel Commission, which is effectively the non-profit organisation responsible for the promotion of Europe as a tourist destination in third markets.
Iulia shares with me what are the new drivers for choosing Europe today, where are travellers coming from and what type of locations do they favor.
She also shares more in depth research findings at ETC which showed that on going crisis and conflicts are not stopping people from traveling – at least not much anymore – and you will be surprised to know why is that.
If you are operating or managing your tourism and travel business across Europe, this episode will leave you with a lot of ah-a moments, particularly if you are wrapping up the summer season as we speak.
Let’s get to it.
Intro of yourself, your background and what propelled you to take an interest in sustainable travel, particularly when working with the ETC team.
My journey in the travel and tourism sector started 9 years ago when I came to Brussels to work for the European Travel Commission (ETC), which is an organisation representing National Tourism Organisations of European countries. I’ve always wanted to work in this sector, not only because it’s a sector that makes people happy, but also because it’s very dynamic, creates a lot of job opportunities, and stimulates economic growth. When I discovered ETC, I said to myself that this is the place where I want to work and grow professionally. And I managed to achieve this. ETC has a unique mandate – which is to promote Europe as a tourism destination in long-haul markets – I fully believe in this mandate which has not changed since 1948 and I am very passionate about everything we do in this organisation (from marketing, research, to advocacy) to fulfil it. My colleagues always make the same joke - that I am Destination Europe’s biggest fan -, which is, in fact, true. As a traveller myself, I love everything about what Europe has to offer, from its cultural heritage, typical products to its natural beauty.
Given my background in both tourism and business administration, throughout these past 9 years, I had the opportunity to deal with numerous projects of the association (in marketing and advocacy), work with EU funds and on financial matters, manage public procurement, manage relationships with National Tourism Organisations and the European Commission, as well as facilitate partnerships and affiliations with external organisations. I am one of the founders and the coordinator of the European Tourism Manifesto, an informal alliance that gathers more than 70 public and private organisations from the travel and tourism value chain and beyond with the purpose of advocating the importance of tourism at the EU level. This is a unique initiative at the European level, never seen before in the history of European tourism. It brings together actors from a fragmented industry to speak with one voice to the European Union Institutions: airlines, airports, cruises, boating industry, travel agents and tour operators, accommodations, restaurants, bars, attractions, tourist sites and many others.
In my current role at ETC, I am responsible for leading the organisation’s department in charge of administration and financial operations, membership matters, EU funding, and partnerships with external organisations from the cultural and heritage sector. I am a strong promoter of the cooperation between the tourism sector and cultural sector – because tourism needs cultural heritage and cultural heritage needs tourism.
Sustainability at ETC
Sustainability in three dimensions – social, economic and environmental – has always been in the back of our minds throughout our work at ETC. Together with our national members, we have fully moved from a solely market- and profit-driven strategy to a new approach focused on sustainable tourism growth.
Our marketing strategy Horizon 2022 was developed prior to the crisis and has even more relevance now. This strategy aims to change the paradigm of traditional volume-driven promotion to placing people's interests first and attracting the "right visitor". We believe that travellers that are attracted to Europe because of its unique products and thematic experiences - and not just because of its famous cities and landmarks - are more likely to come back to Europe. These travellers will go off the beaten path and travel off-season while being more loyal and respectful to the places and the communities they visit. By making this switch, Destination Europe promotes itself first and foremost as a collection of meaningful experiences that connect with people's passions and only secondly refers to the places where it all happens.
1. As travel restarts, travellers have developed a very distinctive process when searching for the 'greatest trip' experience. What do you think are the new drivers for choosing Europe today?
Long-haul travellers still choose Europe for the richness of its assets: the city life, the cultural and historical heritage, gastronomy heritage, beautiful nature, sunny destinations and blue water beaches. In my opinion, many of the experiences in Europe are unique compared to the other regions of the world.
When it comes to new drivers, let me share with you some insights from one of our latest research - Tracking E-Reputation of Europe in Long-Haul Markets. A thorough analysis of internet conversations, articles and posts regarding travel to Europe shows that the region’s reputation has been drastically impacted in June-July 2022 due to external factors and tourism-centric topics. Factors such as heatwaves and wildfires across several European countries, the resurgence of COVID-19 cases, Monkeypox spread, inflation, labour shortages, and airport/ferry disruption have all contributed to this decline.
Despite this negative trend, positive drivers have also been captured in consumers’ social sentiment demonstrating Europe’s overall touristic appeal:
- The affordable destinations / budgeting tips in a time of inflation;
- The well-developed rail network in European countries allows travelling easily, avoiding airports and keeping the budget under control. It is also an opportunity to travel in a more sustainable way;
- Many lesser-known places to discover Europe’s diversity and local heritage, but also avoiding crowds and their associated consequences: waiting times, the unpleasant sentiment of a lack of space, higher risks of contamination, etc.
- The presence of sustainability options through different travel verticals: transport (e.g., train, electric snowmobiles), accommodations (e.g., building hotels in wood)
- The diversity of traditions and celebrations across European countries is perceived self-enriching by visitors.
I would like to share with the audience a few examples of current positive drivers per market (I will choose 5-6 in total from the below list) so you might ask if I have such examples:
When it comes to destination selection criteria, according to research conducted before summer (latest Long-Haul Travel Barometer (LHTB) 2/2022), long-haul travellers will choose European destinations firstly based on their safety score. It’s very interesting to see that people continue to prioritise destinations that effectively manage the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the importance of this destination selection criteria has decreased significantly compared to a year ago. In the summer of 2021, travellers wishing to travel to Europe were mainly concerned if the destinations of their choice had implemented COVID-19 measures and if the number of COVID-19 cases was low. But now this has changed. For summer 2022, these criteria were still of concern, but at a lower scale, potentially due to the high vaccination rates across Europe.
Other important destination selection criteria are the friendly and welcoming local population, the number of visitors (the destination is not crowded), the affordable services at the destination, the famous sights to see, and the preserved nature & cultural heritage.
These are all the results of our latest Long-Haul Travel Barometer (LHTB) 2/2022, research we at the European Travel Commission conduct together with partners on a regular basis. This barometer examines travel intentions from six overseas markets – Brazil, Canada, China, Japan, Russia, and the United States – to Europe every four months.
Although the war in Ukraine has created new challenges for the European travel sector, it appears to have had a limited impact on sentiment in most long-haul source markets except in China and Russia, with the majority of respondents (76%) stating that the conflict has not impacted their travel intentions. Of course, due to the ongoing conflict and consequent sanctions imposed on Russia, Russian travellers’ desire to visit Europe reached the lowest level on record.
The majority of respondents (76%) shared that the conflict has not affected their travel plans, with "putting a trip on hold" being the biggest change planned by 12% of all respondents.
Source: Long-Haul Travel Barometer (LHTB) 2/2022
According to our research (latest Long-Haul Travel Barometer (LHTB) 2/2022), before summer the interest per market was the following:
- Brazilian travellers: destinations around the coast and mountains and cities hold the strongest appeal; Top countries: Portugal, Italy, France
- US travellers: urban trips the first choice, while countryside and rural areas the second choice: Top countries: France, Italy, Germany
- Canadians: show a strong interest in coastal and metropolitan areas, with France, Italy and the UK being the most popular countries to visit
- Chinese: Cities / metropolitan areas as their first choice; Top countries: France, Italy, Germany
It must be noted that this research was conducted before summer, a new report looking at the intention to travel in the autumn-winter period will be available in a few weeks’ time.
2. Europe is diverse, no doubt about it. Which destination is proving to have embraced sustainable travel at its best and what can be learned?
According to Euromonitor, the world’s top 20 most sustainable destinations are all located in Europe. These are: Sweden, Finland, Austria, Estonia, Norway, Slovakia, Iceland, Latvia, France and Slovenia.
Scandinavia is exemplary in its engagement and awareness of sustainability, where 65% of travel businesses already have implemented a sustainability strategy according to Euromonitor’s Voice of the Industry Sustainability Survey (July 2020).
However, it is important to note that destinations face different and unique challenges in terms of implementing sustainability (e.g. differing impacts of economic/social/environmental challenges for their destination, different governance/legislative models, etc.) and should be monitored in terms of their own progress towards sustainable tourism development.
Our research points out that destinations across Europe are at different stages in their journey towards developing a sustainable tourism ecosystem.
Already before the COVID-19 crisis, in response to the accelerating demand for tourism and search of long-term success, some European NTOs started challenging their traditional roles and strived to reinvent themselves and tourism in their destinations with innovative strategies. For example, 'Tourism Strategy 2027'– Portugal; 'Perspective 2030'– Netherlands; 'Travel to tomorrow'– Flanders; 'Strategy for the sustainable growth of Slovenian Tourism 2017-21'– Slovenia. The existence of such strategies with a long-term perspective was a key factor in weathering COVID-19, primarily because those NTOs successfully anticipated changes in the environment, such as increased emphasis on digital transformation, an increase in the importance of sustainability and a stronger focus on the interests of the resident.
I will give the example of Slovenia, which is very advanced in its implementation of sustainability - The Green Scheme of Slovenian Tourism is a national certification programme bringing together all sustainable tourism efforts in the country under the brand SLOVENIA GREEN.
I will also give the example of Germany, a study case on its positioning as a sustainable tourism destination, also featured in our ETC Handbook on Encouraging Sustainable Tourism Practices. This handbook contains 20 valuable case studies from worldwide entities and destinations that have successfully implemented viable tourism practices over the past years.
3. Sustainable tourism's demand leads the tourism recovery. Who is exactly asking for it?
I think many are asking for it in Europe: industry stakeholders, National Tourism Organisations, the EU policymakers, visitors.
However, EVERYONE HAS A ROLE TO PLAY IN SUSTAINABLE TOURISM. Policymakers, businesses and destination management authorities, tourism operators, local communities and visitors each have a role to play in ensuring that tourism enhances, rather than diminishes destinations as places to live, work, visit and enjoy. Developing and implementing practices that help to enhance the positive effects and reduce the negative effects of tourism activity on a daily basis is an important part of this process.
ETC believes Europe’s national and local tourism organisations have a major role to play in bringing their stakeholders together to develop a shared vision for sustainable tourism implementation. This vision encourages them to work with commercial and academic partners, as well as public sector and industry associations to generate valuable insights and identify ways to help Europe’s visitors make more environmental and community-friendly choices before and during their journeys.
At the beginning of the pandemic, we interviewed our member NTOs and the majority surveyed agreed that COVID-19 represents a turning point for making tourism in their country more environmentally friendly. There was also a strong willingness (among 85% of respondents) to work with the relevant stakeholders to find new ways to reduce the negative impacts of tourism. 32% indicated that they may reduce or withdraw funding from sectors/businesses with high carbon emissions.
This year the European Commission published its Transition Pathway for Tourism to guide tourism’s transformation in the EU in the next years. It recommends all Member States or their key tourism regions to have comprehensive tourism strategies by 2025. These strategies should be built on sustainable development principles, which factor in economic, environmental and social sustainability.
The European travel and tourism stakeholders (represented by the European Tourism Manifesto alliance) have been always putting sustainability at the centre of their actions. One of our big projects in 2020 and 2021 was directed at more European and national funding to support tourism’s post-COVID recovery. To assist EU governments in drafting their national recovery plans, the alliance published a Paper presenting a list of reforms and investment ideas to drive digital and green transitions of travel & tourism and wider EU economies. To support this proposal, we launched a #Tourism4Recovery campaign with the goal of raising awareness of the devastating impact of the COVID-19 crisis on European tourism and showcasing how investment in sustainable tourism can be a key driver for the EU’s recovery.
As I said, travellers also play a big part. Travellers now seem to be paying more attention to their impact on the environment and local communities.
According to the Expedia Group:
· 90% of consumers look for sustainable options when travelling.
· 7 in 10 consumers have avoided a travel destination or transport option due to scepticism that the commitment to sustainable practices was real.
· 74% of consumers would choose a destination, lodging or transport option that is committed to supporting the local community and culture, even if it was more expensive.
· 7 in 10 consumers feel overwhelmed by starting the process of being a more sustainable traveller.
In one of our handbooks (ETC Handbook on Encouraging Sustainable Tourism Practices), we have outlined some of the major demand-driven and supply-driven sustainability trends that have emerged in travel and tourism in recent years, together with a brief series of example actions NTOs and DMOs could take to support these trends further.
4. In terms of sustainable travel, where do you think there's more work to do and why?
We all agree that tourism destinations cannot go back to pre-pandemic models and levels, they should be more conscious of tourism’s impact on the environment and local community. Collective action is needed to manage tourism well following this crisis, and it is imperative that sustainability is integrated into national strategies so that it makes a real and tangible difference at all levels.
Suppliers should also adapt their tourism offers. However, they are not alone, travellers must equally change their behaviour, and adopt more sustainable travel practices.
The willingness to adopt a more sustainable travel behaviour expressed by consumers does not always materialize (it remains just an intention). Often, there may be a difference between the values that consumers express when asked in a survey and how they eventually act while travelling.
According to our research, travellers are most likely to adopt sustainable practices in the behavioural category of interacting with the local community and immersing in local life, learning about the local traditions and trades, buying local products and choosing locally owned restaurants while in the destination. ETC’s Sustainable Tourism Attitudes report identified that pre-pandemic, current and projected travel behaviour of the respondents align, indicating a very limited impact of the pandemic on the likelihood of adopting more sustainable travel behaviour in the future.
The largest constraints to the likelihood of adopting more sustainable travel practices in the future are money and time. Therefore, there is a need to highlight how sustainable travel enhances travel experiences and comfort.
In our research (Sustainable Tourism Attitudes report) we identified four types of clusters of travellers, from low-footprint travellers with the highest likelihood of adopting sustainable travel behaviour in the future to habitual high-footprint travellers with the lowest level of likelihood of considering sustainable alternatives in the future. In our Sustainable Tourism Attitudes report we provide destinations and tourism businesses with recommendations per type of cluster on how to stimulate behaviour change and develop sustainable tourism products. Some examples of recommendations are:
· Participate in eco-certification programmes and work with eco-certified suppliers
· Build packages around sustainable forms of mobility
· Foster partnerships with local service providers
· Use financial instruments/incentives to stimulate behavioural change (e.g. coupons/vouchers/credit system)
· While compensation and eco-certification schemes may help, real change should be fostered by offering products that allow travellers to adopt more sustainable travel behaviours, instead of compensating their carbon and overall eco-footprint
· Develop campaigns to showcase how local communities and the ecosystem benefit from the actions of conscious travellers
· Increase awareness of the economic impacts of mindful travel choices, such as booking with independent or local businesses
· Promote regional products and the possibility to engage with the local community (e.g., tastings, workshops, cooking classes, etc.)
· Increase the visibility of sustainable offers at the destination (e.g. sending follow up emails, pop up messages, etc. once the travellers are in the destination)
· Create awareness of alternative travel modes – focusing on comfort, convenience and efficiency – and benchmark with other travel modes, such as car and aeroplanes
Other recommendations to both destinations and tourism businesses:
· Monitor the lifestyle choices and interests of your travellers to develop fitting sustainable offers
· Collaborate with data agencies to gather information about consumer lifestyles (e.g. data about daily tasks, leisure and recreation, tourism, communication, social participation, etc.) – you may buy relevant data or may sponsor questions in future Surveys
· Do customer satisfaction surveys to enhance understanding of traveller’s choices
· Collect best practices/tips/tricks of environmentally-conscious travellers to influence the choices of other travellers (e.g. via review websites, social media, etc).
5. I'd love also to hear your thoughts on what you would like to share on the podcast, perhaps a new project or anything else I missed that you would like/feel it's important to mention?
Besides Research, ETC, together with partners and National Tourism Organisations undertakes a number of global trade and consumer marketing campaigns as well as media activities that highlight the diverse and unique travel experiences Destination Europe has to offer. In line with the Horizon 2022 strategy mentioned earlier, we focus these campaigns on the following three pan-European themesthat appeal to the passion points of niche global communities of travellers, namely:
· Nature and the Outdoors: Inspiring experiences and stories framed around human or nature-powered journeys that connect with the outdoors in line with the ethos of the Slow Adventure movement. This includes nature experiences that provide a better understanding of the environment, but also of the local culture, food, people and traditions, especially in rural areas (ecotourism).
This passion point connects with the community of Immersive Explorers;18-34-year-old couples with children, and solo travellers (male bias) who find togetherness in the wilderness and enjoy experiencing nature at their own pace. They want to learn about new cultures, experience new adventures and expand their perspectives from what they learn when travelling.
· Creative Cities: Inspiring experiences and stories framed around the local cultural scene and lifestyle, with a focus on contemporary arts, architecture and design, handicrafts, fashion, music, festivals, gastronomy, street and performing arts (creative industries) as well as high-end products in small or medium-size urban areas.
This passion point connects with the community of City Life Enthusiasts; 18–34-year-old couples with children, and solo travellers (female bias) who swap landmarks for local life, trade the well-worn path for a secret side street and crave a culture of creative contrast and artistic reinvention. They want to "live like a local" while developing their own creativity and put emphasis on the atmosphere of the places they visit.
· History and Ancestry: Ancestry and heritage-related experiences and stories in connection with historical places and events (places of memory, contemplation and commemoration) which exerted an influence in world history.
This passion point connects with the community of Explorers of Cultural Identity and Roots; 35+ year-old couples with children and empty nesters (Male bias) who step beyond borders into the theatre of world history, learning from the stories of yesterday with a desire to discover their own roots.
Our website to promote Destination Europe in third markets: https://visiteurope.com/en/i-am-curious/