The conference on cross-border tourism in Europe, organised in cooperation with Interact, took place as a hybrid event on 10 May 2022, on the premises of the European Committee of the Regions in Brussels. The event was opened by Petra Masácová, head of the Interact Managing Authority, together with the chair of the COTER commission of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), Nathalie Sarrabezolles.
Due to the current war in Ukraine, which is having a major impact on the European Union, a panel on the effects of the crisis on cross-border tourism was organised at the opening of the conference. The panel was moderated by Pavel Branda, member of the Committee of the Regions and vice-mayor of Radlo, Czech Republic.
Eric Philippart, senior expert, DG Grow, European Commission, stressed that the Russian tourists are important for the tourist sector in Europe, especially in some Member States and that their absence will be strongly felt. Manuel Alejandro Cardenete Flores, minister of education and sports of Andalusia, Spain, stressed that the Ukrainian invasion by Russia is affecting the sustainability of European cross-border tourism. This is shown inter alia by the lack of arrival of non-European tourists, since Russian air space is no longer open for European flights, which amounts to a loss of tourism from Asia.
Bernd Lange, head of Görlitz District Council, Germany, underlined that the Ukrainian crisis has been a problem for the economies of several regions in Europe, especially when it comes to local tourism. Regions that rely more on Russian tourism should receive more funds and help to overcome the losses they will face.
The first thematic panel on EGTCs as innovative actors in cross-border tourism aimed to demonstrate the importance of the EGTCs for cross-border tourism. Isabelle Pélieu, the director of Tourism of the Hautes-Pyrenees Region of France, presented her region, which is situated between France and Spain, in the context of tourism. According to her, the Region of the Pyrenees must be attractive for the public in general. That is why it is necessary to change its image as "a tourist spot", transforming it instead into a spot for all kinds of groups, in order to attract the general public. It is also important to create tourism that allows people to get to to know the local culture.
Dr Joaquin Latorre Minguell, director of the EGTC Mycological Institute, believes that mycological tourism is a chance to develop sustainable and diversified forestry and environmental tourism, involving the health, natural and cultural sectors, and at the same time offering something new. This kind of tourism can benefit from digital and cross-border innovation, since information and best practices can easily be shared. This is achieved through digital communication and the development of partnerships between several European actors in the mycological sector.
Katja Hofbauer, the marketing and projects manager of the EGTC Alpine Pearls, presented the EGTC, which is focused on future-oriented mobility. It implemented a project called "Connect2move", which aimed to promote innovative physical activities and better health. The project succeeded in developing both a series of hiking trails and a formula to calculate the wellness of hikers. Dr Zoltán Herke, the development manager at the EGTC Arrabona (HU-SK), underlined that tourism is important for the Danube region. Tourist packages focus different on different aspects (cultural, religious etc.) that the region can offer and that the EGTC can provide to tourists.
Maitena Ezkutari, the director of tourism, commerce and consumer protection for the Government of Navarre, underlined that tourism has been promising in the region for a long time. The sector recovered quickly after the strict health measures during the pandemic, which was facilitated by the own tourism strategy. Tourism in Navarre is strongly linked to sustainability, which is an essential pillar of the strategy. The region has been active for a long time in the production of sustainable energy, food and other industrial products. In addition, the focus of the tourism strategy is also on proximity: most tourists come from the neighbouring regions of France and Spain.
The second thematic panel was on innovative cross-border cooperation models. A number of speakers from different Interreg-programmes and border regions presented their projects on innovative cross-border tourism models.
The project "Heading for diversified and sustainable tourism" (Interreg Austria-Bavaria) was presented by Pietro Beritelli, associate professor from the University St Gallen. Tourism is a social phenomenon that most of the time operates thanks to peer-to-peer communication. It is necessary to find new solutions and models to work on, to promote the different outputs and results of efforts in the tourism sector. Thomas Huemer from the Joint Secretariat (JS) of the Interreg-programme underlined that the main priority is to have sustainable tourism.
Integrated tourism development along Eurovelo 6 (Interreg Romania-Bulgaria) was presented by Marcela Glodeanu from the Managing Authority of the Interreg programme RO-BG. Support to local tourism is the priority at the borders between Romania and Bulgaria. Eurovelo Route 6 is a cycling route that crosses all of Europe, including Romania and Bulgaria. There are restaurants, hotels and other infrastructure to provide services to tourists. It is necessary to consider all the elements to provide high- quality tourism. The priority is to establish tourism that focuses on sustainable means of transport, constituting a long-term plan.
Territorial Action Plans (TAPs) in tourism (Interreg Slovakia-Hungary) was presented by Silvester Holop, the representative of the JS of the Interreg programme. Mr Holop emphasised the challenges in the tourism sector, which have become greater and more complex in recent years. For this reason, 40 per cent of the region's Interreg budget has already been allocated to tourism for the next funding period. In this context, it is also important to support small- and medium-sized tourism enterprises in view of the growing challenges. In the Interreg region Slovakia-Hungary, cross-border cooperation on tourism is to be strengthened by supporting primary, increasingly local, tourism actors that are geographically close to each other.
Zoltán Bara, director of the Pons Danubii EGTC (HU-SK), presented the work of the EGTC, which is currently implementing economic cross-border cooperation. They created a historical building presentation, using virtual reality software to present touristic and historical heritage.