Following the announcement of “The Rhodes Co-Lab” in January this year – which is a cooperation of TUI Group, the TUI Care Foundation and the Greek Government of the South Aegean Region to develop Rhodes into an international beacon for the sustainable development of holiday destinations – an MoU between the three partners was officially signed on Tuesday. Later that same day, the project was introduced to representatives from the European Institutions in Brussels. The debut of the Co-Lab in Brussels marks another milestone of this one-of-a-kind initiative to be implemented in the following five years. For the launch in January 2022, TUI CEO Fritz Joussen and Thomas Ellerbeck, Chief Sustainability Officer of TUI Group and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the TUI Care Foundation, together with a delegation from Rhodes, met the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in Athens. Together they discussed the role of Co-Lab Rhodes for the international and Greek tourism industry.
“Tourism is a force for good. Without tourism, destinations lack investment and direct spending by travelers. Without tourism, there is hardly any basis for economic prosperity in most destinations. The Co-Lab can serve as a laboratory for sustainable tourism of the future and strengthen and further develop these impacts. It will thus create role models and blueprints for other destinations. We invite everyone in the tourism industry to join forces and contribute ideas and innovations to the Rhodes Co-Lab," says Fritz Joussen, CEO of TUI Group.
With the Co-Lab project, the island of Rhodes – one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world, TUI – the leading global tourism group, and the TUI Care Foundation have now joined forces to showcase, co-create and develop a holistic tourism model for the future, in an aim to answer contemporary challenges about the sustainability of the tourism industry. The partnership intends to develop and test concrete solutions which can then be easily replicated in other tourism destinations. To this end, the Co-Lab has been built around four cornerstones: creating green economic growth, developing a circular economy, restoring biodiversity and protecting the natural environment, and strengthening the positive social and economic impact of tourism.
After the signing of the MoU at TUI`s Brussels office, the project was introduced by all three signees to key European political stakeholders during a lunch that gathered, amongst others, Members of the European Parliament and experts from the European Commission, as well as the Ambassador of Greece to Belgium, Mr. Kalamvrezos.
George Chatzimarkos, Governor of the South Aegean Region, highlighted the importance of the initiative for Rhodes and Greece expressing that: "There is a fundamental principle that covers all the policies in our Region, the Region of South Aegean: that the future starts today. We faced huge difficulties over the last decade, but we are proud to say that in the islands of our Region we came out stronger, more confident and determined to succeed also in the future. Tackling the challenges ahead it is a complex task and we understand that nobody can do it alone. I believe that this great alliance, with a leader in the global tourism market, such as the TUI Group, goes beyond the narrow limits of our common commitment to this endeavor. It’s a vote of confidence to Rhodes, to the islands of the Region of South Aegean but also to Greece.”
The Mayor of the Municipality of Rhodes, Andonis V. Cambourakis, said on this occasion: “We are pioneering again to be at the global peak of sustainable tourism and the Municipality of Rhodes is fully committed to work in this direction. With the luck of having George Chatzimarkos at the helm of South Aegean Region, we have the certainty that Rhodes will once again manage to emerge as a tourism model, with modern terms of quality, innovation and sustainability. That is why even today, in the heart of Europe, we are not just sealing a significant partnership with a world tourism leader. We convey the voice of the Rhodians themselves and the determination of the Rhodian society to protect our environment, to highlight our unique historical and cultural wealth, to give higher added value to the tourist product of Rhodes, ensuring prosperity for all. Nothing grand and important can be done without being embraced by the citizens themselves. And we as the Municipality of Rhodes, confirm this with our presence.”
The event gave all participants the opportunity to informally discuss the practical implications around the sustainable transformation of the tourism industry and the Rhodes Co-Lab in particular. A strong focus was put on the need for a coordinated long-term effort bringing different stakeholders on board -which in the case of the Rhodes Co-Lab includes government officials and the key players in the industry, but also workers unions and local stakeholders associated to the broader value chain of the tourism industry. Attendees also raised the need for a balanced approach that keeps local communities, their social and economic well-being, together with environmental protection in mind, in order to move forward with concrete and effective measures. In addition, participants also highlighted the need to keep these structures open to all players and stakeholders as, the broader the cooperation, the bigger the impact will be for the people in the destinations.
In this regard, Thomas Ellerbeck, Chief Sustainability Officer of TUI Group and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the TUI Care Foundation, explained during the visit that the Foundation is a proud partner of the Co-Lab and will bring its experience in international projects to the initiative, especially in setting up and running educational programs. "Tourism has positive effects: better opportunities for education and work, higher environmental standards and more prosperity. We want to strengthen and develop these aspects in this new cooperation. At the same time, it is about reducing emissions and the consumption of natural resources. The Co-Lab is the first platform to make this overall account transparent for a major destination and to test new solutions,” he said.