Fifty percent of international tourism takes place in Europe. Its sea shores, mountains, thousands of beaches and lakes, historic cities and towns are the most frequented destinations in the world. Tourism and travel is one of the Europe’s biggest and most rapidly expanding industries, and is expected to double over the next decade. Today Europe can claim to combine a rich diversity of cultures, languages, landscapes, nature, climatic zones, people, lifestyles, and social values together with a high standard of living, an excellent infrastructure, and expansion of free time for leisure and holiday making.
This growing interest in visiting cultural, heritage and natural sites has paralleled the growth in Europe of a high level of environmental consciousness and a willingness to include environmental concerns in the daily life of both consumers and host populations. Europe has, for instance, some half a million accommodation providers that impact both the environment and directly depend on the quality of their natural surroundings. Of these, 95% are small or micro enterprises with less than 50 employees. Yet, because they are dependent on their natural location, many of them are very active and innovative in establishing and maintaining a high-quality environmental performance.
Although the rapid expansion of tourism in Europe has increased environmental threats, the corresponding acceleration of technical and management solutions to environmental problems has created better market opportunities for attractive tourism services and products. One of the challenges is to ensure that the more sustainable products are easily recognized and that the consumer is offered and then makes the “green” choice in selecting value driven tourism destinations and services. It is here that the eco-management certification programs such as EU Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) and EU Ecolabel can play a vital role. The dual function of these voluntary initiatives is to help direct travelers to environmentally and socially responsible tourism businesses and to encourage improvements and set standards within the tourism industry.
The diversity of tourism in Europe presents, however, enormous challenges for certification initiatives. Europe has far more “green” certification programs than other regions in the world. In practice these represent a rich, but often confusing and over- lapping, array of certification programs. The success of EMAS, EU Ecolabel and other environmental management schemes in the tourism sector depend upon efforts to increase cooperation and integration among the programs, including mutual confidence that programs include similar criteria, standards, and auditing practices. In addition, the traditional ways of implementing standardized environmental management systems do not fit into the reality of typical small enterprises. Bureaucratic and financial barriers make it too complicated for small companies to apply for this type of certificate or label. Therefore, what is needed is a new generation of adapted and effective methods for implementing certification programs simply, smoothly, and with lower trans- action costs.