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Rural Development in
the Information Society

"The PARALELO 40 tourist reservation department"

Malaquías Jiménez Ramírez [La Manchuela LEADER, Castile-La Mancha, Spain]

"Selling" rural tourism to the people requires fast and efficient communication systems.

Our PARALELO 40 network was created in 1993 by seven LEADER I groups (five from Spain and two from Portugal), whose areas of intervention were all more or less situated on the 40th parallel of latitude, and who wished to promote their tourism resources together.

The idea was to establish visitor loyalty by means of joint and reciprocal tourism promotion : thus, each area informs its visitors of the attractions of each of its partner areas. Until 1996, the seven PARALELO 40 groups were happy to publish tourist brochures together and jointly attend trade fairs and exhibitions.

In 1996, with the launch of LEADER II, our network opened up to 20 other areas (five in Portugal and 15 in Spain) also situated on the 40th parallel. This led to the need to improve our ability to take action and strengthen our presence on the market. The use of new communication technologies then seemed to us to be inevitable.

We therefore decided to create a reservations department in order to directly market our tourist products, using an IT system which enables information on and the "on-line" sale of breaks to be constantly updated.

In order for the project to take shape, we turned to the ARTE-PYME programme (Regional actions in favour of telecommunications in SMEs) coordinated by the Spanish Ministry of Industry and Development. Being a national programme, non-Spanish partners were not eligible to apply for it. The project's implementation was therefore limited to 14 Spanish groups. The Portuguese partners were involved in informing people about and promoting PARALELO 40, but not in the actual reservations department itself.

The aim of this department is therefore to directly market tourist products offered by tourism companies in each area. The project's implementation involved the following stages :

  • installation of 156 computers, 14 in the LEADER group offices and 142 in the companies involved. The majority of these companies are small (one or two employees) and cover almost the entire range of tourist and leisure products (rural gîtes, hotels, apartments, cabins, campsites, open-air sports, guided tours, cultural activities, local cuisine, etc.). 5000 beds are available in total;
  • installation of an Internet server;
  • data capture on the services of the 142 tourism operators (dates, beds, rates, services, discounts, etc.);
  • training the project's participants (technicians from the 14 local action groups as well as tourism operators, using the IT tool in their establishment). This involves personalised training provided within the companies themselves;
  • promoting and disseminating the project. In this respect, we have produced 5000 copies of brochures to be distributed at the tourism fairs where we are present (in particular FITUR in Madrid) and to travel agencies and tour operators.

The software used is "TURCENTRAL" (for data management concerning reservations) and "TURINTER" (for image processing). This equipment initially caused us a few problems because it is not completely suited to the specifics of rural tourism (little accommodation spread out over the area) nor to the accountancy methods generally used by small operators. However, these problems were gradually resolved.

The department has been operating for too short a time for its results to be seriously evaluated at present. In August 1998, a meeting was held in Riopar, in the Sierra del Segura (Castile-La Mancha), between operators involved in PARALELO 40. The 100 or so participants discussed the system's development prospects, which seem to inevitably involve creating an association-type organisation to manage sales made by the reservations department and extending the network's geographical coverage : we therefore looked at the possibility of including Italian and Greek LEADER areas in PARALELO 40. Furthermore, from the point of view of optimising profitability, we believe that the equipment already installed could enable products other that those associated with tourism to be marketed : craft products, agri-food products, etc.

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source: LEADER Magazine nr.19 - Winter, 98-99

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