Marketing Quality Rural Tourism
Introduction: Putting feelings first
document type: article
source: LEADER technical dossier
last update: 3/95
Growing numbers of city-dwellers are "getting away
from it all" in the countryside. This is the conclusion
which could be reached after a glance at the literature on
growth in rural tourism nearly everywhere in Europe. What is
the true situation?
Rural tourism as an economic and social sector is
experiencing full-blown growth, justifying constant rise in
the number of operators (notably promoters and investors)
taking an interest in it. Is this relevant?
The organisation and service provision in rural tourism
suffer from chronic weaknesses as regards product definition
and distribution performance. This eclectic landscape should
consequently be "tidied up" to improve its response
to the development needs of the countryside. Is this
frequently expounded conviction well-founded?
Before replying to these three questions, there must be
exact definition of what exactly is covered by the term
"rural tourism", as done by Javier Calatrava
Requena and Pedro Ruiz Avilés. Although use of the
term is widespread and common to the majority of countries in
the world, the underlying reality is highly varied and
complex. Reduced here to agri-tourism (tourist accommodation
on farms), it more often than not spans green, restful,
alternative, different, local, open space, country tourism
and even, for some, leisure parks and large chain hotels.
Rural tourism exists, is growing and gives people enjoyment
because it is different from "industrial" or mass
tourism and away from over-crowded resorts.
One shared feature is that it is local tourism, tourism
"of the area", sought after and controlled by local
people. It is tourism where there is contact and experience
This type of tourism is local at five levels:
- local initiative;
- local management;
- local spinoffs;
- rooted in local scenery;
- tapping local culture.
This is why it is proving attractive to a growing number
of city-dwellers, who are especially drawn by its
particularities because of the trend towards uniformity which
prevails in towns. We should not, however, allow ourselves to
be deluded: city-dwellers are primarily in search of
themselves and of a personalised response to their need for
emotional and social appreciation. The countryside, nature
and the rural way of life just provide a suitable and
reassuring setting giving a sense of security.
The more that the city is stressful (unemployment,
insecurity, etc.), the more that the countryside is
reassuring. The more that the present is aggressive, the more
gentle that the past seems. The less that people have a sense
of direction, the more they seek out those who are firmly
rooted in their community.
The main quest of city-dwellers is for simple feelings,
in a simple world where simple tasks are carried out. It
could also be claimed that they are seeking real feelings in
a real world, doing real things, were it not for the fact
that they prefer safe feelings without personal commitment in
a world created for them, taking part in pseudo-authentic
Rural tourism know-how is to a large extent imbued in
the open-spiritedness of country people, namely their ability
to communicate, through words, attitudes, decor and actions,
with city-dwellers who have lost touch with the countryside
and nature, for whom the countryside is a new source of
exotic experiences, of the supreme luxury of the simple
things in life.
The country people who are most successful in tourism
are those with sufficient intellectual distance from their
country status to understand what is sought from them and to
throw themselves unrestrainedly into it; those who offer, in
man-sized businesses, services which appear personalised,
although in reality they are standardised.
This is the point at which the problem of promoters and
large investors arises. Rural tourism is concentrated in
small and medium-sized enterprises and its central component
is the individual. Aside from the recruitment and training of
"fake" farmers to whom the management of rural
tourism centres could be delegated or the financing of
operations managed by local country people, it is difficult
to see how large companies could organise rural tourism.
Although high performance tourism centres do exist in
the countryside, by their very nature they fall outside the
concept of rural tourism and are targeted on a different sort
of clientele. Although it may be situated in the deepest
countryside, a "Center Park" is more a kind of
local tropical tourism than rural tourism.
The real issue is one of the nature of tourism; this
also holds true when rural tourism is criticised for being
too diffuse, individualist and poorly distributed.
Progress still has to be made in the area of service
identification, sign-posting, organisation and distribution.
Many LEADER groups have set off along this path. However,
care should be taken that the hoped-for progress is not at
the expense of the particularities and the "craft"
nature of the tourism service.
The "failings" of rural tourism are
paradoxically one of its key features. They are its hallmark.
They reassure the customer, bringing the service provider
The "rustic simplicity" is as attractive in
the area of accommodation as it is in the packaging or market
presentation of agri-foodstuffs. In both cases, it is taken
as a sign of genuine quality, of an "authentic",
"local" and "traditional" product which
is not "over-processed and over-priced".
But this is where the shoe pinches: the product must at
the same time satisfy all the safety and comfort
Applied to accommodation, this means both comfort and
decor: a modern bathroom in a house with an open-beamed
This is the constant contradiction faced by rural
tourism. It must learn to manage this contradiction if it is
to continue to meet the expectations of a clientele whose
profile and characteristics are becoming more precise every
It is thus a question of striking a difficult balance
between the values of the past and the demands of the
present, between what is sought and what is consumed, between
the expectations of the city and the realities of the
Henri Grolleau (*)
(*) This article has been published as an opinion forum
in LEADER MAGAZINE N°4 (Autumn 1993).
Secretary General of TER ("Tourisme en Espace
Rural", Paris, France), Henri Grolleau produced a study
on "Rural Tourism in the Twelve Member States of the
European Economic Community" in 1987, and a study on
"Rural Heritage and Tourism in the EEC" in 1988,
both on behalf of the Directorate-General for Transport
(Tourism Service) of the Commission of the European