Boat houses in western Sweden, a growing tourism hotspot. Photo: Fredrik Boman/Image Bank Sweden
For me as Business and Innovation Minister, with overall responsibility for the government's trade policy, it is exciting to see the Swedish export market growing, despite the global economy weakening.
The export of services, not least in the hospitality industry is showing one of the highest growth rates. Never before have so many tourists from all over the world come to experience and discover the uniqueness that our country has to offer in terms of nature, culture, sports and food tourism.
This has resulted in the tourism industry growing from around 3.9 percent of Sweden's total exports in 2000 to 5.5 percent today. Swedish tourism has increased twice as much as the rest of Europe over the last year! Behind this development are a range of talented entrepreneurs alongside skilled hospitality staff who are offering world class service and expertise.
The companies that are developing the Swedish tourism industry are creating many important jobs in Sweden, not least for young people who often find their first jobs in this sector. This area also offers many opportunities for foreign-born citizens to enter the labour market in occupations that provide invaluable experience no matter what they choose to do later in life.
A cafe in Gothenburg. Photo: Faramarz Gosheh/Image Bank Sweden
Tourists sightseeing in Gothenburg. Photo: Simon Paulin/Image Bank Sweden
I was recently in Gothenburg to participate in the Swedish Tourism and Hospitality industry's annual congress. It is a conference that brings together industry representatives, policy makers and entrepreneurs.
Gothenburg is an excellent place for the hospitality industry to meet in. The Västra (west) Götaland region has long stood out for its forward planning and strategic work to enhance the competitiveness of the tourism industry. This has resulted in the development of exciting new experiences and destinations, often based around the west coast's unique archipelago and marine environment. This means that this region has experienced one of the strongest export growths in recent years.
Västra Götaland is also leading the way when it comes to the ability to pull in major international events such as the World Athletics Championships and the Gothia Cup. These events attract the attention of large numbers of people who travel to the region.
Now, the national government is working to seize the tourist industry's potential to grow even more.
The government has already taken strong action to ensure that even more people can open their eyes to Sweden as tourist destination. Visit Sweden has been instructed to market Sweden in key emerging markets with great future potential, such as China and India, where awareness of Sweden is relatively low at the moment. According to international estimates, global travel from these markets will continue to increase and Sweden has the potential to attract many tourists from these countries.
Visit Sweden has been commissioned to promote nature and eco tourism in rural areas. The image of Sweden as a holiday destination focused around nature is already strong internationally. Sweden is associated not just with beautiful scenery but also nature that is unique, pristine and accessible. Visit Sweden's research suggests that many tourists who are interested in travelling to Sweden are also interested in experiencing our nature through various outdoor activities.
Tourists kayaking in west Sweden. Photo: Henrik Trygg/Image Bank Sweden
But it is important not just to promote the destinations and experiences that Sweden is currently offering, but also to continue to develop new ones. The Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth (Tillväxtverket) has therefore been instructed to focus on sustainability and export markets and to help develop nature and culture based tourism. These areas need to be developed if we are to build increasingly competitive Swedish destinations.
To help take the next steps in our efforts for the tourism industry to grow even stronger, I recently announced a national dialogue forum. The purpose of the forum is to gather industry representatives to regularly discuss the issues and challenges that the industry faces. Through this community, I want to create a better understanding of how we can grow the tourism industry's potential in future, to consider development opportunities and to look at how the private and public sector can work together.
The tourism industry is linked to several policy areas and departments, which means that there is a need for a forum for collective dialogue. By creating such a forum, I hope we can work towards reaching a better consensus on industry needs.
I have invited representatives including Visita, Svensk Turism, Visit Sweden, the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth, Sweden's hospitality industry's union (Hotel- och restaurangfacket) and the Swedish Trade Federation to participate in the forum, alongside regional representatives.
I look forward to continuing discussions about one of Sweden's fastest growing industries which promotes a number of positive values alongside the economic growth and jobs it also creates. Travel and tourism are very much about interaction between different people and cultures, something that in current times is needed more than ever. Moreover, I am convinced that everyone who comes to experience Sweden will travel home as a great ambassador for our country, which promotes business and investment in all areas of the economy.
Collaboration is a fundamental aspect of what we call the 'Swedish model'. Sweden is a small country and a prerequisite for our continued success is this kind of cooperation. By establishing this new forum for dialogue, we have created a basis for collaboration that will create more jobs and benefit the tourism industry as a whole.
Mikael Damberg is Sweden's Business and Innovation Minister. A Swedish version of this article was previously published in Göteborgs-Posten.