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Europe a 'fantastic' place to invent tourism AI, says Commissioner Breton

Europe a 'fantastic' place to invent tourism AI, says Commissioner Breton
Copyright euronews
Copyright euronews
By Méabh Mc Mahon
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EU Commissioner Breton tells Destination Europe Summit that regulated use of technology will help the tourism sector.

The tourism industry can benefit from artificial intelligence apps and Europe is the ideal place for them to be developed, EU Commissioner Thierry Breton has said.

"Europe is and will be a fantastic place to invent new AI applications, especially for tourism," the Commissioner for the Internal Market told the tourism industry Destination Europe Summit in Brussels. "We are the first tourism destination of the world, so we are the one generating the largest, biggest amount of data in tourism on this planet."

A data space for tourism

Breton said a new dedicated safe space would allow the development of data-driven applications. The conference was chaired by Méabh Mc Mahon for Euronews Global Conversation.

"You know, when we speak about AI, we basically speak about three things: data, algorithm and computing power," he said. "So that's why we really want to have a data space for tourism to make sure that we organise as well. Who owns this data? How do we organise this data space? It's extremely important. This is why we want to finalise this data space for tourism. Using this data will be a fantastic advantage, of course, for everyone, and especially for the tourism industry, including in a second phase, developing some specific algorithms focused on tourism. And this will be, of course, part of the job of tourism entities, but also other services companies."

"You need computing power. And you know that we in Europe with EuroHPC, we have developed the largest HPC for supercomputers, high-performance computers. The largest infrastructure in the world, which will allow big companies, small companies to have access to this computing power to develop also the algorithm and training data on those specific tourism algorithms to develop specific activities. So it's very important now to develop these new applications."

Breton said it was important for innovation to benefit all those working in the sector, including smaller businesses.

"SMEs are extremely important for the ecosystem, for the tourism ecosystem," he said. "So, here we need to see how we could support and help, including in the digital transition, including using these new tools we are working on now,  in a dedicated package for SMEs. I think it will be for next fall that we will present it. It's extremely important. It will cover a lot of issues that SMEs have in the tourism industry, including late payment, including many things that hopefully will become less of a burden and also less of an administrative burden."

Politicians are here to make the rules

Breton also insisted no businesses will quit Europe over plans to regulate the use of artificial intelligence, because the market is too valuable to ignore.

"We don't only regulate AI," he said. "We have decided to organise our digital space. That's something I have worked very hard on since my first day at the Commission. Our digital space was not organised at all. Some were saying it was a little bit like the Far West, especially in social media. And you know what that means: you could have some tragedy here. So we decided to organise it. It has been quite a journey, but we did it with the Data Governance Act, the Digital Services Act to organise social networks, the Digital Market Act to have fair competition in it, the Data Act, which is very important including of course for tourism."

In face of EU regulation, Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, was reported as saying "We will try to comply, but if we can't comply, we will cease operating". But Breton said that in private conversations, Altman had changed his tune.

"No one (will leave)," Breton promised. "Of course. Because it's the biggest digital market in the world. So no one can afford to. It's one and a half times bigger than the one in the US. No one could afford not to be in it. And we welcome everybody. Sam Altman told me that it was misinterpreted. So he changed his tweet and he said, 'I love regulation'. I have been a CEO myself. I will never say: 'I don't want to enter into this market because it's too difficult for me to follow the rules'. Rules are rules. Politicians are here to make the rules to secure, when we believe it's important, the way our fellow citizens are living in this place or that place. And companies are here to follow the rules. And they will, don't worry. No one will leave. No one. And by the way, it's good for innovation, too. When I was a CEO, I operated in more than one hundred countries and of course, we had different rules. And I always told to my employees we need to be good citizens in every country on this planet and not to change the rules and to say to a government: 'You have bad rules, change it'. You have to be a good citizen, including when you are a CEO. So, I know that they are thinking like me. Because all the CEOs are thinking the same way."

The commissioner said the EU was well used to enforcing regulations.

"I'm already the enforcer of the internal market," he said. "You cannot do everything. Of course, the internal market is big. That's a tremendous strength of Europe. But of course, you cannot do everything. You cannot import everything. If you import toys, there are some rules that these toys are not dangerous for children and if not, of course, we will enforce them. So, I am already the enforcer of the internal market and these rules in the digital space are ex-ante. So it's an ex-ante regulation. In other words, to be able to enjoy the capacity, to benefit from the biggest digital market of the world, you need to follow some rules to enter."

Regulating short-term rentals

Breton defended the place of short-term rental services within the tourism sector, but said they required more regulation.

"It's part also of the new way to do tourism," he said. "So, and I see that for example in the countryside, it could be a very nice offer. So I don't want to have to say it's good, it's bad. This is something that is developing. So we need to follow this. But here also we need to make sure that we could have the quality. This is why we also we will also have some specific data, you know, and a specific regulation, and we are finalizing it, for short-term rentals. It will be finalised before the end of this year and then made available for the sector, giving more visibility for the sector, giving more security also for users and also being able to develop it using this data."

Becoming green, without restricting consumption

The Commissioner said technology would enable the tourism sector to continue to thrive while respecting environmental constraints.

"We have no options," he said. "And it's true that it's a challenge. But we will be green. There are no other options. So that's, of course, is the goal of our generation and the generation to come. We will have to. But also, and I keep saying this very often, it's not while restricting our movements or our consumption that we really get green. Of course, we need to make sure that we can save energy. But it is thanks to innovation, thanks to technology, thanks to science that will do it. So it's a huge transition, in a way a revolution."

Impact of the war in Ukraine

Breton said that the war in Ukraine had disrupted the sector but that the impact was manageable:

"Russia is a big country with more than 143 million inhabitants," he said. "It's not the biggest country in the world in terms of population. It is ten times smaller than China or India. So we have a lot of other potentiality […] But yes, we have this war. This war is definitely changing a lot of things. We, as you know, we said clearly at the Commission and in Europe that we organise ourselves to support Ukraine as much as we can and we organise it for the long term, because, of course, we could have good news, but we see over past events that it's always difficult to predict what will happen with our big neighbour. And that's why we will do everything we can to continue to support Ukraine against this terrible aggression."

Staffing problems

With booking numbers high for this holiday season, Breton said the main concern for the industry would be staffing.

"I think the biggest challenge today is probably skills and people," he said. "I'm afraid we don't have enough new talents to welcome and to organise for this important trend that we will enjoy. So it really means having a deep think."

Finding inspiration in la Creuse

As for his own plans this summer: "Usually, what I'm doing every summer, I'm going for one week or eight days, I'm going to walk in a part of France that I like, which is totally a desert, which is la Creuse [... ]. I don't meet anyone except cows. And I get a lot of ideas when I'm walking, but I need to walk. After five, six, seven hours then, the ideas are starting to come. So that's, that's what I do every day."

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