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Rural tourism and local development
Harmful effects of too much tourism

document type: article
keywords: rural tourism / methodology
source: LEADER technical dossier
last update: 3/95

Rural tourism and local development

Since the fifties in many countries in the north and centre of Europe, and since the 70s in the southern European countries, rural tourism has been seen as a strategy with good prospects in so far as it helps retain the population, create jobs and, in the final analysis, promote the socio-economic development of disadvantaged areas. Various elements explain this evolution:


- rural tourism can satisfy the demand for open spaces for the practising of a wide range of sports, games and cultural activities;


- it responds to growing interest in the natural heritage and rural culture among city-dwellers who are "deprived" of knowledge of these values and who do not benefit from them. Certain specialised farming systems draw considerable tourist interest: this is true of tropical fruit farming in certain Mediterranean or island areas of the Community. This form of tourism includes visits to farms (in part production centres and in part museums of exotic species), presentations on types of tree cultivation, their origins, technologies, markets, coupled with tasting sessions of fruit or juice or even participation in certain types of farm work. In Tenerife (Canary Islands), where agri-tourism has been established for some time, several farms operate on this basis. Similar examples are to be found in other disadvantaged areas and for other types of crop and farm;


- local operators have become aware of the possibilities offered by the knock-on effects of rural tourism, be it the generation of additional income, the creation of synergies or demand for infrastructure and support services in the countryside, which is in the interest of both local people and visitors. Studies, conducted notably in Norway and France, show that expenditure on accommodation is followed up by other purchases in the area, representing a sum two or three times higher and essential for the maintenance and growth of small businesses and the craft industry;


- finally, there is new drive among government administrations and the various socio-economic operators to promote rural tourism. This is undoubtedly a response - in some cases perhaps prompted by a guilty conscience - to economic crisis and the need to find solutions to it, to the negative effects of reforms of farm structures and to the eradication of basic structures in many rural areas.

In this light, rural tourism is seen as a way of ensuring land upkeep and preserving lifestyles of benefit both to current inhabitants and future urban generations.

Harmful effects of too much tourism

Unfortunately, there are numerous instances, particularly in Mediterranean Europe, where over-estimation of the contribution which tourism can make to the process of local development has led to stagnation, regression and even total loss of profitability of local tourism and of its authenticity. This over-estimation leads to excessive creation of tourist accommodation, speculation by local people and outsiders, environmental deterioration and the deadening of the human element and the personal touch which are the features most sought after by real rural tourism enthusiasts.

This over-estimation of tourism potential is often aggravated by a lack of the appropriate institutions at local level, the reckless and headlong rush to make a profit, a level of vocational training and management well below the requirements of a quality tourism service, on both the individual and collective levels (this is particularly true of areas "deep in the country" in Southern Europe). On top of this, there is a lack of planning and of tangible objectives. All of these are factors weakening this development model and all are possible causes of failure, even in areas with numerous natural and cultural assets.


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