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Marketing Quality Rural Tourism

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Promoting quality tourism in the rural areas of the European Union: the role of the local action groups

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

What are for the LAGs the intervention methods that are most adapted for developing a dynamic tourist economy, one that will create jobs and value added?

This question, often asked in the LEADER seminars does not have one sole answer and depends on the various local contexts for the organization of tourist channels, not forgetting that the first people involved in tourist development are the economic actors and that the first concern is the quality of the services.

1. Quality tourism

The theme of quality in rural tourism has been at the centre of the preoccupations and activities of the LEADER Work Group on Tourism: the Bertiz seminar (Navarra, Spain) in April 1994 validated a work proposal of the Pilot Committee defining an orientation framework for the implementing of quality plans by the local action groups.

This text which was the object of much consultation within the LEADER network, was improved during two seminars, one in South Pembrokeshire (United Kingdom) in June 1994 and the other one in Pieriki (Greece) in September 1994.

The final version of the text (see part III) only provides the general framework for the drawing up of a "quality charter" which should obviously be adapted to the diversity of the local situations and of the national and regional legal frameworks.

Additionally, the efficiency of a quality approach is conditioned by the backing of service providers who are the first concerned by quality, the role of the LAG being to bring together all the partners in order to encourage an approach involving overall quality.

The text, however, will be an important instrument in the context of LEADER II to identify the LEADER territories as privileged destinations of rural tourism.

With this in view, it is possible to specify the role of the LAGs in the implementation of training. This training is necessary to facilitate the adherence of all of the actors involved to the objectives of quality.

The operating instructions for quality training have been particularly well demonstrated by the experience of the South Pembrokeshire group from three points of view: information awareness-raising, professional training and technical assistance:

  • The prerequisite for information and awareness-raising - the quality of the tourist facilities concerns the whole of the local population: their receptiveness to tourism, their understanding of what is involved and of the overall tourist development programme are fundamental.
    At this initial level, training is not based on pre-established models but on the overall information and awareness-raising actions adapted to the local culture.

  • The "professional" training has to be adapted to specifically identified people depending on a particular problem. It generally involves training to measure to help those involved to manage their activity and to enable their integration in the leisure-tourism channel.

  • Training should be prolonged as far as individual monitoring and technical assistance in order to assure practical application, coherence between individual approaches and the overall tourist development plans promoted by LEADER.

2 The role of local action groups in the tourist stakes

The role of the LAGs in the design and implementation of the overall tourist development plans has to be defined in relation to the partners involved. Their intervention methods and the degree of their involvement in the tourist programme and the marketing of the latter should especially be taken into account.

a) Should LAGs be tourist enterprises?

The example of the "Comité départemental" of Lozère (France) presented in several LEADER I seminars is a model of vertical and horizontal integration that has seduced a lot of local action groups.

The management body of this LAG - the "Comité départemental du Tourisme" - intervenes in both the production and the marketing. It has created:

  • a mixed economy enterprise that promotes and manages tourist accommodation (holiday villages, lodging houses) and tourist equipment (golf courses, thermal stations, leisure parks);

  • a reservation office that takes care of the marketing of 500 lodging houses and markets reception products with a catalogue;

  • a travel agency specialized in exportation;

  • a promotion body that deals with the territorial marketing of the area (brochures, participation in fairs, press coverage) with two offices in Montpellier and Paris.

The total turnover (exclusive of public subsidies) is 2 million ECU (1.4 million in direct trading products - 0.6 million in sales commissions - 20% on 7,500 contracts).

This model must of course be placed in the perspective of the programming scale (it involves an entire "département" of about 100,000 inhabitants) and of the strong involvement of the region's public institution in its creation.

It would be difficult to transpose it to most of the LEADER areas but it opens a possibility that is often evoked, that of an alliance strategy between peripheric LEADER areas when possible or with supra-local public institutions which are able to organize such systems.

It is clear that the role of the LAGs is not to confine local development to strict territorial limits but to be the initiator of tourist organization in realistic territorial entities so as to develop a tourist economy that represents a mass that is sufficient to organize a channel and win the market.

b) LAGs as promoters of tourism partnerships

The diversity of local contexts, of national and regional legal frameworks does not lend itself to the setting up of one unique model for tourism organization in rural areas, but the three years of exchange activities and of transfer of experiences have enabled the LEADER I Network to define and distribute within the network an operative method from which the great majority of the LAGs draw inspiration.

This method depends much less on a conception that makes the LAGs a tourist enterprise than on a role of incitation, of promotion, of technical assistance for tourist operators and of an interface between the professionals in tourism and the market.

The following diagram reflects the situation of many local action groups.

Possible roles for LAGs in the promotion of first-class tourism

Local actors

Possible roles for the LAGs

Targeted market

Hotel owners Insertion of the partners in the network in order to mobilize the offer (e.g. creation of associations by branch of activity: hotel owners, lodging houses, etc.)

Individual tourists
tour operators
travel agencies
Restaurant owners Training of the population and of the various tour operators

Agri-tourism structures Promotion of the area, territorial marketing in liaison with the reception partners (e.g. setting up of promotion operations: exhibitions, fairs, invitations to tender)

Producers and processors of local products Technical assistance with the setting up of reception products, even going as far as the creation of a reception enterprise

Transport and leisure services Mission for commercial negotiation with distributors concerning a grouping of proposals

Tourist office If the volume is sufficient: creation of a central reservation office or a territorial tour operator's office

The LEADER group Navarra (Spain) specifically illustrates the practical application of this diagram.

This LAG inspired the creation of a "tourist consortium" that groups together:

  • tourism professionals - about fifty hotel owners, rural accommodation providers, and leisure enterprises entered into a partnership;

  • the representatives of the 21 districts forming the area;

  • local associations concerned with tourism.

The consortium manages the tourism programme in partnership with the LAG. A tourist coordinator is placed at its disposal. The actions implemented include:

  • the improvement of tourist accommodation structures;

  • the development of the villages;

  • the publication of information and promotional documents (catalogue of the homologated accommodation structures, natural and cultural resources guide, excursion guide) according to a graph and a distribution plan;

  • a territorial marketing plan targeted on nearby customers (Spanish and French);

  • a catalogue of grouped offers for accommodation and leisure activities proposing "à la carte" holidays using a system of "multi-active" vouchers sold by the member enterprises.

The LEADER area's programme for tourist development is closely coordinated with that of the Government of Navarra which supports the consortium financially and highlights the image of the area in its tourism promotion policy.

c) LAGs and the implementation of marketing tools

The Gubbio seminar made it possible to evaluate a number of tourism marketing tools and notably to appreciate at their true worth the methods of integration of tourism telematics in rural areas, often evoked in the LEADER network for three years now, mainly through numerous central reservation offices.

The new possibilities opened by telematic distribution and the dominant role of the large servers used by the travel agencies and tour operators (AMADEUS, GALILEO, ESTEREL, etc.), simplifying the purchasing agreement between consumers and producers, constitute so many opportunities for the rural producing areas. This is even more true in that the telematic systems offer the advantage of being able to group the diffused, uncentralized offer from rural areas and integrate it in the large servers.

The experience of "Services Loisirs Accueil" in France confirms this point of view since it will be connecting a central server to the terminals of the French travel agencies. Product offers from 50 French "départements" will thus be integrated in the large telereservation systems and they will be available at international level for tourist distributors without going through the wholesale tour operators.

It is clear that the transposition of this project is not envisageable at all levels and that it implies the grouping of sufficiently big product offers, guaranteeing the travel agencies an optimization of results within a large network of producers.

The scale of LEADER territories is not adequate in most cases. It could be possible by establishing a preferential relationship with one or more travel agencies which are partners of LEADER. But in all cases it remains necessary to study well the amortization of the functioning of the central reservation office. The figure of 2,000 client contracts with a margin of 20% on average sales prices of 400 ECU would seem to be the minimum required to enable the functioning of the central office.

Direct telematic sales outside the distribution network would only complicate matters, as the central reservation office would additionally deal with the promotion of the server to make it accepted by the public.

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