More than 400 tourism actors meet at the joint Baltic Sea and Latvian Tourism Forum

The Investment and Development Agency of Latvia and the Ministry of Economics of Latvia welcomed more than 400 tourism actors of the Baltic Sea region to the joint 11th Baltic Sea and Latvian Tourism Forum.

From 14.11.-15.11.2018 tourism professionals and motivational speakers met in Riga to exchange ideas on preservation, digitalisation and on how to strengthen sustainable cooperation patterns in the Baltic Sea region.

The annual event focused on the challenges of creating new offers while maintaining the touristic and unique charm of popular holiday destinations and discussed the impact of digitalisation in times of growing competition and a constant technological development. Moreover, in the light of the upcoming funding period strategic topics were addressed on how to reinforce international cooperation in the Baltic Sea region.

Beka Jakeli, Coordinator for Member Relations at UNWTO, pointed out that global trends require tourism to be smarter, more competitive and more responsible towards 2030. To ensure competitiveness, the UNWTO set visions for the next 10 years such as sustainability, modern thinking, travel mobility and innovative data driven digital campaigns. In addition, he stressed that Africa and Europe are the leading destinations in terms of growth in international tourism arrivals. Macro-regions like the Caribbean or the Danube are already polling successfully their resources and are entering in competition with the Baltic Sea region. 

Anders Bergström, EUSBSR Horizontal Action Leader Capacity; Norden Association, spoke in favour of cross-sectoral and cross-border work within the framework of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR). In this context, it is particularly important to promote the development of projects into processes, to involve more stakeholders and thus to build stronger bridges to policy. Anders stated that a better connection of the four macro-regional strategies, namely Baltic Sea, Danube, Adriatic and Ionianand Alpine can create additional benefits as even in international tourism similar topics are addressed by each region. Within the framework of the EUSBSR, the new Action Plan is to be adopted in 2019, for which tourism stakeholders are still able to pass on ideas to the respective policy areas.

Daria Akhutina, Senior Adviser, Council of the Baltic Sea States, introduced the work and priorities of the CBSS as an intergovernmental organisation and their link to the EUSBSR. Under the priority “Sustainability and Prosperous Region”, the CBSS acknowledges “The importance of the joint development of sustainable tourism in the Baltic Sea Region, offering a strong potential for growth and employment, but also supports the mobilization of the full potential for sustainable tourism development by strengthening tourism cooperation, by promoting the region as a common tourism destination and by developing joint products and services”. Moreover, Daria stressed the role and the impact of tourism to reach the Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations in 2015. Tourism is explicitly mentioned in the SDGs 8, 12, and 14 but has a relevance in 10 of total 17 goals in the BSR. Insights and recommendation for sustainable tourism development were compiled in the final documentation of the project “From the SDGs towards a sustainable tourism in the BSR” supported by the CBSS Project Support Facility.  

Tobias Woitendorf, Deputy CEO of the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Tourist Board, introduced the development of the Baltic Sea Tourism Center and stressed the importance of a permanent cooperation approach for international tourism in the BSR. Benefits that can substantiate further collaboration are joint lobbying on EU-level; taking advantage of international development trends; access to data, knowledge and best practices; training and building capacity, and enhanced visibility on the global tourism market.  In order to be more competitive, the sector must move closer together even across borders. Strong partnerships, improved insights and enhanced skills are essential for a sustainable development.

Therefore, four newly established Expert Groups were presented under the topics Tourism Policies, Training Offerings, Sustainable Tourism and Market Research calling tourism stakeholders around the Baltic Sea for active collaboration. In the consecutive workshop "Concepts for permanent cooperation structures in the Baltic Sea Region" on the second day of the conference, the activities and first outputs of the working groups were presented. While the Expert Group Market Research, led by Prof. Björn P. Jacobsen of Stralsund University, presented the first Tourism Market Report, Lidija Bajaruniene (Chief Specialist of Tourism Policy Devision, Ministry of Economy of the Republic of Lithuania) reported on the planned implementation of a Sustainable Tourism Award, which will be presented for the first time at BSTF 2020. Meanwhile the work of the Expert Group Training Offerings will be led by Karin Melbye Holm (Danish Tourism Innovation) to focus and further develop tourism products and services together with SMEs, associations and projects. To date, 12 tourism products have been developed with project partners from Denmark, Germany, Lithuania and Poland as part of a specially designed BSTC product development process. The Expert Group Tourism Policies, presented and led by Andrea Krabbe, (Policy Area Tourism of the EUSBSR) informed about the revision of the EUSBSR Action Plan and a recently developed Position Paper for sustainable tourism cooperation in the BSR post 2020. It was agreed that the success of the Expert Groups depends on active participation of committed partners and organisations that have a mutual interest in international cooperation.

Moreover, inspiring Speeches, Panels and Keynotes, such as the talks by Marius Smit (Plastic Whale) or Moa Björnson (Head of Development, Traena Island) showed that small steps within our communities can lead to massive results in the long run and help make travelling better, smarter and more valuable - for visitors, locals, heritage, and nature. Therefore, it should be in our all interest to actively participate in international tourism collaboration – to convert change in opportunities and make our work more effective, sustainable and worthwhile.

We would like to thank all participants and everyone who was actively involved in discussions, workshops and presentations, and are looking forward to seeing you again next year in Pskov, Russia to the 12th Baltic Sea Tourism Forum.