Europe May Rate Tourist Spots for Quality

The world's top chefs would happily throw their grandmother under a Eurostar train to have their resto or bistro blessed with the award of a Michelin (MGDDY) star. Now Brussels hopes that European hoteliers, amusement park managers and art gallery curators will be every bit as ambitious to win the right to bear an EU tourist destination quality mark.

The EU executive proposed on June 30 the creation of a prestigious EU "Quality Tourism" label to reward the best tourist businesses, activities and destinations, from the most secluded and exclusive Greek beachside bars to the scariest Transylvanian vampire tour.

"We hope it would be sort of like a Michelin Star award, but for all types of tourist sites," commission spokesman Fabio Pirotta said.

The European 'Qualité Tourisme' brand has yet to pin down a final name or logo, but ideas will be developed further in the coming months should the plan win approval from member states and the European Parliament.

"You can imagine this becoming a real marker of excellence that tourists use," Mr Pirotta added.

The quality mark is to go considerably further than the bloc's existing but largely unknown Eden, or European Destinations of Excellence scheme, established in 2006 to promote destinations that ensure social, cultural and environmental sustainability.

The Network of European Regions for a Sustainable and Competitive Tourism, a regional framework launched in 2007, would provide the groundwork for the development of the new label.

The bloc also hopes to promote Europe as a tourist brand in itself. Currently countries such as Britain or Cyprus, or cities such as Paris or Amsterdam promote themselves, but no one other than Australia has yet tried to promote an entire continent as a brand.

"The idea is that instead of a family just coming to France for a summer holiday, they come to Spain as well on the same trip," Mr Pirotta explained. "Instead of the two countries competing for the same tourists, tourists could come to both destinations while on holiday."

The commission is also keen to stagger school holidays among different member states to try to extend the length of the summer and winter high peak holiday seasons. The re-jigging of school holidays would be voluntary, the commission underlined, but co-ordinated through an information exchange at the EU level.

The tourism proposals also include help for disabled, elderly and poor people to travel more widely.

Tom Jenkins of the European Tour Operators Association said the ideas have merit but issued a note of caution.

"We certainly welcome this new initiative, and back the commission's commitment to promoting Europe as a destination throughout the world," he said. "But with the quality mark, the difficulty comes when they promote globally a service economy that caters to the tastes of European inhabitants. This taste is very difficult to quantify and so such a move might be tricky to pull off."

Another senior tourism industry official told this website: "Frankly, these people couldn't sell snow in the Sahara."

"They are trying to figure out puffed-up ways to help out in areas where there are no real worries instead of targetting issues that cause genuine problems dissuading tourists such as the stupidity with which they handled the ash crisis or utterly bonkers visa restrictions or ludicrous exercises in airports."

"These sort of things weigh upon the tourism industry like a ball and chain, but no, they are happy to faff about with some new kitemark," the businessman continued, "because that's easy to do. Going after things like visa issues is hard. But that's what we need."

"They are about as useful to us as a chocolate teapot."

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