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Is there a European tourism industry?

On Thursday 16 July, the Court of Justice of the European Union annulled the so-called “Privacy Shield” agreement that allowed US companies to transfer European personal data to US soil.

Public opinion is generally unfamiliar with the real issues surrounding data in all its forms. Indeed, this is a rather technical subject whose complex springs require close attention.

For our European tourism industry, this is an interesting shift that shows the change of dogma at work within Europe. Some people have been talking in recent months about a return to pragmatism after a long period considered “naïve” in the face of the basic issues of economic sovereignty.

Companies that collect and process data from European people or companies, such as Expedia, TripAdvisor or Airbnb, will have to integrate that from now on the use of this market intelligence will have to be better balanced in order to protect data from activities based on European soil.

It is true that for decades the extraterritoriality of American law has been pushing European private actors to a suffered vassalage. Firstly, all transactions denominated in dollars allow the application of US law, regardless of the geography and origin of the actors. The same applies to all data transiting on American servers, through the Cloud Act. With a globalized currency that represents more than 60% of the reserves and with the GAFAMs (Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft), we can say that the Americans have been able to impose their influence.

At the same time, the European economic recovery plans, particularly for tourism, must not only help to support this important sector for many EU countries, but also redefine the trajectory and challenges for the coming decade.

At a time not so long ago, some justified their inaction by the fact that tourism was supposedly “not relocatable”. It is true that the Mont St Michel or the Eiffel Tower will not be moved, nor will hotels be put on wheels (although the offer of mobile accommodation is growing), but in reality, whole areas of added value are already being relocated. The commission rates charged by non-European intermediaries are indeed value that is being relocated, as is the knowledge derived from customer data.

In industry, there is talk today of relocating entire sectors, which will certainly take around ten years, while in tourism it is a question of relocating part of the added value. Not factories to be repatriated or know-how to be reconstituted: it could therefore be faster.

On the same 16 July, France obtained the application of reciprocity between Air France and Chinese airlines for the number of weekly flights allowed between France and China. Would we have the same political courage with our American partners? Few economic players in the tourism sector have the right to operate on the US or Chinese domestic markets, while the reciprocal is far from being true. Naïve policies have condemned us to play second fiddle, including in terms of jobs, in the world’s main industry, tourism, even though our region is at the forefront of the global tourism engine.

What will happen to European economic sovereignty in the tourism sector in the coming years? Our ability to control our destiny in an industry that mobilises capital and structuring public decisions is at stake.

In Europe, at the end of the Middle Ages, the European nations were able to free themselves from the right of the powerful to cook their resources, freeing their minds and unbridled entrepreneurial energies.

Bis repetita?

Vanguélis Panayotis

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