From 22-23 September 2015 the Polish Ministry of Sport and Tourism, the Pomorskie Voivodeship in close cooperation with the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Tourist Board and the Ministry of Economics, Construction and Tourism Mecklenburg-Vorpommern - in its role as the coordinator of Policy Area Tourism (EUSBSR) hosted more than 180 international participants in the heart of the city of Gdańsk.
Among others Mr Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of the UN World Tourism Organisation opened the 8th edition of the annual forum. He acknowledged the importance of the Forum for the development of the region “…as a pillar and an example of cooperation within the European Union.” He stressed that major challenges like “connectivity and travel facilitation”, “the creation of an attractive value added proposition for an ever demanding tourist” and “sustainability […] can only be addressed through effective transnational cooperation…” in the Baltic Sea region. The Forum welcomed the kind offer to further build on the cooperation with the UNWTO in the years to come.
The Forum itself represents a sustainable approach with already seven years of continuous cooperation at transitional level. Therefore, participants welcomed the decision of the 24th Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference to establish a working group, chaired by Ms Sylvia Bretschneider, on sustainable tourism as adopted in their conference resolution.
The two-day forum focussed on 4 thematic priority areas. Around 30 speakers provided valuable input to the topics addressed and stimulated discussions among the forums participants.
‘Maritime Policy as a fundament for tourism development in coastal areas’ was the first thematic session. It was highlighted that political commitment and support are essential factors to develop sustainable transnational cooperation structures in the Baltic Sea. Successful implemented and promising future projects are additional keys for more cohesiveness in the region. One of the examples mentioned by the European Commission and the Council of the Baltic Sea States is the planned ‘Baltic Sea Tourism Center’.
At global scale a rapid development in an increasing competitive environment can be recorded. It enforces the need for improved collaboration in many fields. In maritime tourism the European Commission currently implements the ‘EU Strategy for more growth and jobs in coastal and maritime tourism’. The panel highlighted maritime policy at national and EU level and demonstrated how national and regional strategies and activities can be complemented by common approaches in the context of the given EU framework.
In the second thematic session the ‘demands on improved and sustainable transnational cooperation in BSR tourism’ have been considered. The recently adopted action plan of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea region (EUSBSR) “comprises 13 policy areas and 4 horizontal actions, which represent the main areas where the strategy can contribute to improvements.” In January 2015 Mr Gerd Lange from the Ministry of Economics of the German federal state Mecklenburg-Vorpommern took over responsibility as the new Policy Area Coordinator for tourism in the Baltic Sea region. The major aim of Policy Area Tourism is to establish the Baltic Sea region as a common and coherent tourism destination. Main actions are to facilitate and cluster tourism stakeholders and to mobilise the full potential for sustainable tourism. Flagship projects like the Baltic Sea Tourism Center and the Forum itself should strongly contribute to the implementation of these actions.
Since 2012, the development of a permanent co-operation platform at transnational level is required - among others in the annual declarations of the forum. The presentation of the ‘Baltic Sea Tourism Center’ (BSTC) by the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Tourist Board provided participants of the forum a first overview on the planned activities. The idea of the Baltic Sea Tourism Center is to establish a permanent service unit for improved communication and cooperation at transnational level by associating the key tourism stakeholders and promoting a sustainable, responsible and innovative tourism in the Baltic Sea region. The main areas of responsibility during the start- up phase of the Center are proposed amongst others:
- to establish a communication network as a hub for B2B information in and beyond the Baltic Sea region,
- to restructure the Baltic Sea Tourism Forum towards a strategic and operational think-tank with long-term funding security and
- to provide pilot services with focus on capacity building in project development, applied market research and marketing and lobbying.
The Baltic Sea Tourism Center should act as an intermediate between the tourism industry and the political and strategic bodies.
Session 2 was rounded of by funding instruments that have a considerable impact on the development of transnational tourism cooperation in the Baltic Sea region. Especially the Interreg South and Central Baltic Programmes provide a range of opportunities to finance start-up activities for transnational approaches.
The second day of the conference focused on the role of the meetings and events industry in the development of tourism destinations and highlighted perspectives for Tourism in the 21st century with focus on challenges and trends.
The meetings and events industry is a crucial sector of the economy in the Baltic See Region. During the panel international and local experts discussed topics like: cooperation between tourist attractions and congress venues and the impact of meetings and events industry for developing the BSR as a common tourism destination. An interactive discussion with attendee’s helped to provide solutions on how to further develop cooperation in that field. The development of Gdańsk tourism served as a case study in this third thematic session of the conference. In conclusion the session indicated that MICE tourism provides huge opportunities and development potentials for destinations. Common approaches for joint activities could be a common database for reliable figures regarding the number congresses and events, the economic impact and the number of return visitors in the Baltic Sea region. Furthermore the positive effect of MICE tourism in the middle and off season should not be underestimated and could help to overcome some of the challenges caused by the strong seasonal dependency.
The fourth session - provided an outlook on important aspects in the years to come. Tourism is one of the most dynamically developing sectors of the economy. It is also one of the disciplines that are most susceptible to any changes occurring in the environment, as it is based mainly on services. This creates a need for rapid action and modifying adopted strategies to make tourism up-to-date and following designated market trends. Changes in the consumer perception of tourism attractiveness determine the constantly changing approach to develop a comprehensive and competitive tourist offer that would correspond to the needs of the market.
This year 12 exhibitors provided ideas for future cooperation during the Tourism Networking Village. Among them the Culinary Route leaded by the Estonian Rural Tourism Association with delicious tastings from around the Baltic Sea. The Tourism Networking Village shall be further extended to become a marketplace for tourism projects and initiatives that present their ideas and services during the Forum. It should stimulate communication and future cooperation among the participants.
In 2016 the Forum will stop in the city of Pärnu – Estonians capital for summer holidays. Beside the official invitation by Mr Rainer Aavik, Deputy Mayor of the city of Pärnu, the organising team met for the first time personally and discussed the orientation of the 9th Baltic Sea Tourism Forum in 2016. It was generally agreed on a more operational focus of the event. The idea of interactive exchange should be pursued and more practical issues that concern all countries should be highlighted and discussed. New approaches in the set-up of the forum will be implemented to secure a more result oriented forum. The strategic and political components will be integrated accordingly.
The organising team of the 8th Baltic Sea Tourism Forum 2015 would like to take the opportunity to thank all participants and partners for their contribution and support of this year’s Forum and hope to meet all of them in Pärnu / Estonia from 19-20 October 2016.