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European Innovation Council and SMEs Executive Agency (EISMEA)
News article31 May 20215 min read

COSME: Seven years supporting the growth of EU Tourism

Since 2014, COSME has been working to ensure the competitiveness and sustainability of European tourism enterprises. With 21.5 million euros between 2014-2020, we have backed 127 projects in 37 countries.


One of these projects is the Creative Accelerators for Sustainable Tourism (CAST), launched in July 2018 and working on supporting the growth of new tourism-oriented businesses.

Helena Deane, its project coordinator, tells us more about their work, the impact of European funding on its development and gives us some tips for potential EU financial support applicants.


Your project name brings three interesting dimensions together: creativity, sustainability and acceleration services. Could you describe the project’s objectives and activities?

CAST aims to support the growth of the new generation of tourism-oriented start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) through incubator and accelerator support, fusing creativity with cutting-edge technology, science and other relevant expertise.

Our project draws on the innovation potential of the creative and cultural industries (CCI). Very briefly, these are knowledge and innovation-intensive industries at the crossroads between arts, business and technology. And, in our view, they are in a strategic position to add value to other sectors, such as tourism.

Inspired by this, we help SMEs and start-ups generate new products, services and business models. We also facilitate their access to finance and new markets and support them in addressing challenges such as seasonality, in building new skills and, in sum, in becoming more resilient.

The societal and sustainability dimensions are very strong in what we do: CAST’s project services are specifically tailored to companies whose products, services and business models are ecologically sustainable, economically viable, as well as ethically and socially responsible. We want to contribute to a tourist sector that enhances the well-being of communities and supports the protection of the natural and cultural environment, while helping Europe remain a leading tourist destination.


CAST was launched in July 2018. What are the project’s main achievements to date?  What are your plans for the future?

To date, the CAST project can boast a range of achievements, in particular with regard to the direct assistance provided to SMEs. We have supported more than 100 SMEs via two international boot camps, three investment readiness workshops, five thematic events and two international forums, while continuously offering local incubation and mentoring support to SMEs. In addition, we have given companies access to pitching opportunities in front of investor panels. Over 20 startups have engaged with investors to date and as many as one in two have secured follow-up investor interest.


The tourism sector has been seriously hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. How has this crisis affected the project?

It was immediately clear that the Covid-19 pandemic would have a significant impact on the tourist industry and require adaptations to the project. In making these adjustments, we have been guided by the evolving needs of the SMEs, our target beneficiaries.

SMEs’ focus swiftly changed from scaling up and growing to surviving and adapting. As a result, our assistance also shifted to supporting the development of new or revised business models, and notably, digitalisation. Many SMEs showed low levels of preparedness to switch to digital channels. To help them make the move, we have implemented a learning and mentoring programme, held information session and provided a number of case studies from which other businesses could learn. Encouraged by the positive results, this CAST digitalisation methodology is now being adopted by the members of the Enterprise Europe Network Sector Group on Tourism and Cultural Heritage. We have also developed a best practice toolkit for incubation that takes into account the Covid-19 pandemic - the first of its kind.  

Moreover, in July 2020 we organised a hackathon to develop ‘Creative Solutions for the Tourism & Travel Sector Recovery’. It brought together over 120 contributors, from tourism experts, investors and entrepreneurs, to policy makers and digital innovation hubs. The winner of the hackathon was the Safe Tourism App developed by the Algarve Tech Hub, which aims to provide tourists with real-time and data-driven information about safe tourism activities and routes.  


How is European funding helping you in the implementation of the CAST project?

EU funding has been instrumental for the success of CAST. Without it, the activities would have taken place in isolation, with limited local impact. Thanks to the EU funding support, we have achieved our ambitions as to the level of transnational collaboration, the scale of the activities and the intensity of their impact.

The benefits of EU funding support go well beyond the purely financial. It has enabled us to have access to a Europe-wide forum of stakeholders, link up with other networks and engage in a dialogue with high-level policy-makers, which are all essential to amplify the impact of our actions.


As a successful applicant, which advice would you give to others who are interested in getting EU financial support? What is, in your opinion, the golden tip for potential applicants?

The applying consortia should demonstrate ambition and a willingness to go beyond the status quo. The basic goal should be to provide tangible results for the target beneficiaries but also to encourage the use of novel tools, techniques and technologies, thus contributing to increase the competitiveness of European SMEs. And, of course, the level of ambition needs to be balanced against the realities of implementation.

SMEs will only engage if the content of the actions is relevant and helps them achieve their goals, so the projects need to reflect the challenges they are facing. In the case of CAST, for example, one of the greatest challenges identified was access to finance and we thus included a specific work package to address this issue.

Having a solid plan for harnessing transnational collaboration and disseminating results is also very important. For instance, in CAST we cooperate with a number of other projects with which there is scope for joint activities and dissemination opportunities. We also engage with networks such as the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) and the network of Digital Innovation Hubs (DIHs), as well as with clusters and tourism associations and organisations.


Background: The Creative Accelerators for Sustainable Tourism (CAST) project aims to provide incubation & acceleration support to sustainable tourism start-ups and SMEs to grow and scale. We will help them generate new products, services and business models, facilitate access to finance and new markets, while also helping them build new skills and resilience.


This support will continue under the SME pillar of the new Single Market Programme, for more information you can read the official press release and have a look at the factsheet.


Publication date
31 May 2021