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Marketing Quality Rural Tourism

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Marketing Rural Tourism
document type: article
keywords: tourism, marketing
source: LEADER technical dossier
last update:3/95

"Rural tourism" is not a specific category in itself. The marketing of this type of tourism must meet the needs of the market and it is useful to ask oneself: which segments of the market does rural tourism cover today? What type of products seem to be the most fruitful? What kind of evolution can be seen in the clientele? What is the positioning of tourism distributors (tour operators and travel agencies) with regard to rural tourism?


1 Some guidelines to tackle the main markets which rural territories can target


(a) Cultural holidays


Few LEADER areas are able to develop marketing targeted on cultural holiday products.

This orientation is generally reserved for leading sites which benefit from an exceptional patrimony or are included in the great catchment areas for cultural holidays (Tuscany, the Dordogne, Bavaria, etc.) or in the outlying districts of great sites of international renown (the Meteores, Delphes, the great cities of art and history).


For most of the LEADER areas, cultural holidays are only one element of a vaster offer integrating other activities: excursions, open air sports, etc. This means more the creation of a "cultural atmosphere" based on the local identity, without, however, shutting oneself up in a historico-geographical speech that transforms the area into a "museum territory".


Thanks to these cultural atmosphere products an essential part of the clientele can be reached, for holidays of a strictly cultural nature are only a very small segment of the market.


b) Adventure holidays


Together with distant destinations that do not concern European rural areas, the Mediterranean represents an important part of this market covering several product categories which can be split up more and more (expedition, adventure, open air sports, etc. clientele). In Northern Europe countries like Ireland, regions like Scotland and Wales are also witnessing rapid development of this type of tourism.


Excursions are an essential ingredient of adventure holidays but excursions in themselves are not a tourist product, they are a means of access to nature, to discovery.

An "excursion" product cannot be sold without discovery as the motive. This notion of discovery must be defined according to the image and potential of the territory, explained in a programme and addressed to different segments of the clientele, enabling one to distinguish between: sports excursions, principally cultural excursions, adventure excursions in territories that are either little known or far away, "relaxed" excursions aimed at the general public, with transport, comfortable lodging houses and good food, "freedom" excursions without guides for tourists who are individualists.


LEADER territories assert themselves especially in the excursion segment: what they offer is varied, both from the point of view of the image they convey as well as the type of products they propose, for example:


- "cultural" excursions (LEADER areas Sitia, Livradois-Forez, Clare, Kalabaka-Pyli),

- "freedom" excursions (LEADER areas South Pembrokeshire, Buëch-Durance, La Rioja),

- "relaxed" excursions (LEADER areas Préalpes Drômoises, Southern Tuscany).


A grouping of products and promotion of LEADER territories could probably rapidly take form in the field of excursions, proposing a variety of products and destinations.


c) Ecological holidays


This corresponds to holidays that respect the environment and local communities. Its market segment is not yet well defined: it remains difficult to identify because it is a fairly new concept.


The more obvious opportunity for LEADER areas is observation of nature tourism or "nature holidays";.


To succeed, one must have a product that answers the expectations of very demanding clients who are looking for:

- famous sites for fauna and flora including rare species;

- the status of natural reserve or park guaranteeing the protection of nature (nature holidays are incompatible with hunting);

- a method of discovery adapted to very individualistic clients, who want to avoid popular resorts;

- very specialized facilities for the type of activity proposed.


This type of product is suitable for targeted marketing using specialized magazines and mailing to nature clubs for promotional purposes.

The communication has to be sobre and "technical". It is an expensive product, marketed by specialized tour operators. The best market opportunity is ornithology, highly valued on the Anglo-Saxon market.


Because of the large number of natural parks in the LEADER areas, group negotiation with tour operators specialized in nature holidays could be a possibility. This would involve for example working out a product called "European Parks"; similar to the holidays proposed by the Fédération des Parcs naturels de France.


On a wider level, the engagement of the LEADER areas in durable development strategies should put them in a good position to attract clients with an ecological sensitivity.


2 Opting for simple products


The local action groups should not try to find structured products that are cumbersome and costly if the territory does not have a nature/culture potential that is exceptional and well-known.


It is better to give preference to simple, flexible products that correspond to the trend for "freedom" holidays: individual clients can be offered a wide range of varied activities enabling them to organize their own holiday according to their personal tastes.


In the latter case, it would be better to favour nearby markets and direct marketing.


The strategy of the LEADER group La Rioja (Spain) is exemplary

of a pragmatic direct marketing approach in the excursion market sector:


- a reservation desk is at the disposal of visitors who wish to organize their stay;

- a detailed excursion guide outlines the accommodation spots as well as services. It was made with close involvement of the local population and service suppliers;

- a leaflet, distributed free, gives examples of itineraries. It has a detachable form for ordering the guide;

- the guide is customer targeted and put on sale in specialized bookshops, sports shops and travel agencies. It is also available in various places of tourist interest: cafés, restaurants, craft shops, souvenir shops, etc. From local level, its distribution has quickly spread to national level.


The growing success of the initiative has led to a second edition of the guide and it is to be translated into Dutch, German, English and French: these languages cover the largest markets for excursion holidays and in the case of French, the nearest market.


3 Latest trends in the marketing of tourism


At present new trends can be seen in the tourist market.

In the opinion of tourism distributors who have taken part in LEADER I activities, the system of market segmentation aimed at targeting well-defined client categories in relation to specialized, structured products of the "package" type, is less able to meet the new customer characteristics:


- the client does not let himself be enclosed in a particular category; he is becoming more critical and can be characterized by a search for autonomy, for freedom;

- the demand today tends towards more flexible holidays leaving more place for the client's initiative. The latter is opting more and more for holidays that he works out himself;

- individual holidays have precedence on group holidays and the products "plane + car rental + reservation of accommodation" offering more independence are expanding rapidly.


Rural territories should be able to benefit from this evolution of the market as they correspond to the needs expressed by this new clientele:


- the search for authenticity, for intimacy - to the big traditional tourist catchment areas, to popular famous sites and monuments, they prefer the discovery of more secret, more intimate, more authentic places that are less organized for tourist activity;

- the search for human contact, for conviviality - to cumbersome, integrated tourist facilities, they prefer small structures, lodging houses and rural inns. Rather than tourist events or leisure parks, the visitors are looking for places and opportunities to meet the local people: markets, fairs, local celebrations, village squares and cafés.


But, though a lot of rural areas have these characteristics and can cater for these immaterial aspects, two basic elements of tourism products should not be neglected:


- accommodation and catering services that represent the essential part of the tourist product's commercial value. The LEADER groups have to work on this aspect and give priority to it by facilitating the improvement and development of a reception infrastructure that is both sufficient and in harmony with the image that clients have of rural territories;

- cultural and natural wealth, supports for leisure and discovery activities, that should be made the most of.


Out of all these basic aspects for tourism, quality should be the main marketing argument.


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European
Commission

Agriculture
Directorate-General