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The Heritage as a Resource

 

"Not only sun"

Francisco Dominguez
[LEADER Isla de La Palma, Canaries, Spain]

 

In 1992, our local action group began making the
70 000 inhabitants of the island of La Palma
(726 km2) aware of rural tourism at a time when it
virtually did not exist. We managed to convince
74 owners of "casas palmeras" to restore these
traditional homes and turn them into tourist accommodation.

 

In October of that year, the rural tourism association "Isla Bonita" was set up to group together all those involved in the operation: owners, towns, associations, etc. Three technicians were hired to plan and coordinate the association's activities.

Outside technical assistance co-financed by LEADER I helped define the criteria to be met for the architectural restoration and monitor the progress of the work. In November 1992, three municipalities presented their first restoration projects (25 houses, or 90 beds) and then obtained co-financing from the Department of Tourism of the government of the Canaries under the REGIS and LEADER programmes.

A study trip was organised to Navarre, Aragon and the south of France. The owners were able to see for themselves how rural accommodation and the "Gtes de France" operated. A training programme on hosting tourists and managing a tourist business was then set up by the LAG.

In 1993, the municipality of Puntanilla gave up its "Casa Lujan", a patrician house from the 19th century. Shortly afterwards, a "Rural Tourism Office" was opened together with an ethnographic museum and a centre for the promotion and sale of traditional crafts.
A label was also created using a charter defining a certain number of rules concerning the restoration of buildings (ECU 2 800 000 of which ECU 700 000 under LEADER I) and the running of accommodation.

In January 1994, the first phase of rural accommodation was promoted at FITUR, the international tourism fair in Madrid. The same year, a programme was begun to erect accommodation signs with co-funding by the FUTURES programme of the Spanish Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism.
Forty lodgings (164 beds) were rented in 1995. An impact study revealed that 17% of the 1 100 visitors hosted during the first year of operations were from Germany, 24% were from the other Canary Islands, 12% from the region of Madrid, the rest from other Spanish regions and, to a lesser extent, the Netherlands and France. During the same year, the lodgings were presented at FITUR and at the International Tourism Fair in Berlin. They are also promoted on the Internet.

Tourist activities are organised by various private associations such as "Ibakken" (environment and recreational activities; management of a youth hostel sleeping 48), "Aire libre" (camping) and "Artetur" (discovery of the area and its inhabitants; local crafts).

To facilitate the direct marketing of the lodgings and limit the owners' dependency on tour operators and travel agencies, the association published a "Guide on Rural Homes" in 1996, describing 60 available houses (298 beds). In a parallel development, the Isla Bonita association set up a reservation centre that operates with a 12% commission on each rental made through the association.

The restoration and reconversion of traditional rural homes as tourist lodgings now enable the island of La Palma to be something other than a simple "sun destination". An important part of the local architectural heritage has been given a new lease of life. The associations involved in the operation have created 22 jobs of which 12 are permanent and full time.

 

source: LEADER Magazine No.17 - Spring, 1998


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