The Finnish capital Helsinki and the French city of Lyon have been recognised as the inaugural European Capitals of Smart Tourism for 2019, in recognition of efforts to spearhead a sustainable future for their tourism industries.
The announcement at the end of September put Helsinki and Lyon ahead of other finalists including Brussels, Llubljana, Malaga, Nantes, Palma, Poznan, Tallinn, and Valencia, and the winning cities will be awarded their new titles in a ceremony set to coincide with European Tourism Day in Brussels on 07 November. Altogether, 38 cities from 19 of the European Union’s member states participated in the competition.
Criteria for the award included each city’s image, accessibility, sustainable tourism efforts, moves towards digitalisation in tourism service, cultural heritage work, and innovation in its tourism offering.
Helsinki’s deputy mayor Pia Pakarinen said: “Helsinki as a city is committed to promoting sustainable development and is showing the way in this regard also within the tourism sector in Europe. Over the coming year we will formulate a sustainable tourism action plan that will further strengthen our role as a pioneer in this joint project.”
The competition for the title of European Capital of Smart Tourism launched only this year, and is intended as an opportunity to promote sustainable tourism across the European Union, as well allowing member states to exchange expertise and ideas of best practice, thus strengthening their overall tourism offer. The winners will be afforded visibility across the European Union and expert support to boost their branding and promotion to potential visitors.
In Finland, the award is set to further promote Helsinki as a destination in combination with the country’s tenure of the European Union presidency in the second half of 2019, during which time the capital will also host the summit of the World Tourism Cities Federation.
Meanwhile, local media in Lyon report that the accessibility of the city’s main tourist attractions – including to those with disabilities – played a pivotal role in its scooping of the award. In addition, the eastern French city – the nation’s third largest – has made strides in achieving the carbon-neutral status of its Saint-Exupery airport and in delivering innovative tools to visiting tourists. These include a visitors’ card providing deals on public transport and admission to attractions, while in the future there are plans to provide up-to-the-minute information to tourists using smartphone apps.