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Gothenburg and Málaga named European Capitals of Smart Tourism

Gothenburg in Sweden and Málaga in Spain have been named as the 2020 winners of the European Commission’s European Capital of Smart Tourism initiative. Said initiative was put in place to recognise outstanding achievements by European cities as tourism destinations across four different categories: sustainability, accessibility, digitalisation as well as cultural heritage and creativity.

A total of 35 cities from 17 EU member states competed in this year’s edition. Besides Málaga and Gothenburg, four cities received European Smart Tourism Awards, for their outstanding achievements in the individual categories listed above.

What is Smart Tourism?

In their Guide for Applicants, the European Union has defined a smart tourism destination as follows:
a destination facilitating access to tourism and hospitality products, services, spaces and experiences through ICT-based tools. Furthermore, a smart destination is a healthy social and cultural environment, which can be found through a focus on the city’s social and human capital. It also implements innovative, intelligent solutions and fosters the development of entrepreneurial businesses and their interconnectedness.”

The European Jury subsequently selected two cities which convincingly and attractively show intelligent, innovative and inclusive approaches to the different elements which belong to the definition above.

Award Categories

Each city was asked to write essays in which best practices were shared and implemented measures were detailed for each of the four categories were. These categories are:


Cities should be reachable through different means of transport (car, train, plane, and bicycle) and have to be physically accessible to travellers with special access needs, regardless of age, social or economic situation. Apart from a city’s infrastructure, they should also be barrier-free in cultural and social terms. Think of whether staff and information is available in multiple languages? Are official websites user-friendly and intuitive?


Applicants were asked to show to what extent they preserve and enhance the natural environment and resources while maintaining a balance with economic and socio-cultural development. Also to be pointed out were any measures aimed at combating or adapting to climate change. Other questions which were kept in mind: are measures in place to reduce tourism seasonality? How does tourism contribute to local employment? Are local communities involved in order to develop sustainable solutions?


Perhaps the most straight forward category is digitalisation, or how technology is used to enhance all aspects of the tourism experience. Hospitality and transport information, products, services, spaces and experiences must be adapted to the needs of consumers through digital tools. Another point of thought is whether businesses have a digital-friendly environment to grow in.

Creativity and Cultural Heritage

For the fourth and final category, the jury looked at how cities make use of their cultural heritage and creative industries for an enriched tourism experience, including the destination, the tourism industry as a whole and tourists themselves. How are cultural heritage and creativity used to attract tourists and what collaboration is there between tourism and cultural and creative industries?

Gothenburg and Málaga

This year’s winners, Gothenburg and Málaga, were applauded for their “exemplary achievements” across the four categories. The jury was also impressed with the activities both cities plan to implement during 2020, as well as their capacity to act as role models for other places.

Málaga has become a modern and innovative tourism destination and is no longer simply a sun-and-sea tourism hotspot. Besides using technology to improve visitor experience and boost the innovative capacity of local businesses, the coastal city also heavily involves the local community in its sustainability efforts.

Malaga named European Smart City in 2020.

Gothenburg, meanwhile, stands out for its digital offering that is helping improve experiences not only for tourists but also for citizens. An example of this is the future-oriented solutions for traffic and transport, while the Swedish city is also a pioneer for sustainability measures. In fact, Gothenburg has been named the world’s most sustainable destination for three years in a row by the Global Destination Sustainability Index.

Said Elżbieta Bieńkowska, EU commissioner, “I congratulate Gothenburg and Málaga for the outstanding solutions that they put in place to make tourism in their cities smart. Our objective is to promote smart tourism in the EU by fostering innovative, sustainable and inclusive tourism development in order to respond to new challenges in a fast-changing sector.”

Gothenburg and Málaga will receive expert communication and a wide range of branding support for promoting their destination in order to raise each city’s profile and boost visitor numbers. Likewise, as winners, they will also receive a sculpture for their city centre.

The official award ceremony took place at the European tourism forum on October 9th in Helsinki, Finland. The previous two Smart Capitals, for 2019, were Helsinki and Lyon.