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Marketing Quality Rural Tourism

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LEADER I and tourism: some examples

Rural tourism and integrated development: experience of the "Cathar Country" group
document type: case study
keywords: tourism, methodology, heritage
source: LEADER technical dossier
last update:3/95

While a rich cultural heritage is a very useful ingredient for successful rural tourism, it is not enough. The LEADER group "Pays Cathare" ("Cathar Country") has grasped the fact that an efficient marketing strategy is also indispensable.

1. The "Cathar Country" Group: an example of a communication plan for a cultural tourism project

a. Upstream: choosing the right image

* The entire communication policy and subsequently, the tourism development and promotion policy, is based on a single theme where history and the imagination mingle: the Cathar phenomenon.

The Cathar epoch in the 13th century was both a religious and political movement which ran like wildfire through the South of France and inflamed the County of Toulouse against the King of France. The bloody repression by the crusade of the Albigenses still marks the collective Provençal memory. The Cathar country was the last sanctuary of this movement which left a strong imprint on the area's villages, châteaux and history.

* The choice of this image guides the communication policy towards the current interest in cultural tourism focusing on history and heritage. It is based on a marketing approach:

- external dynamics of the image - A survey on the renown of the Cathar Country theme in France and abroad and a study of visitor rates of Catharist sites (700,000 visitors per annum) confirmed that the right choice had been made.

- internal dynamics of the image - The Cathar phenomenon, a symbol of Provençal independence, still strikes a chord in the local imagination which has been strengthened by cultural activities run in recent years.

The medieval festivities of Villerouge-Termenés where the village people stage and act out the history of the burning at the stake of Bélibaste, the last "Perfect Cathar", are one such example of this re-appropriation of history.

b. Highly comprehensive local communication plan promoting the image

This communication plan is characterised by:

* legal protection of the name,

* production of graphic tools, logo and graphic chart,

* a very detailed signposting plan of Cathar sites and monuments in order to optimise visitor numbers,

* publication of guides for the general public and of specific works,

* interactive tourist information terminals,

* a media plan (written and electronic press).

c. Creation and marketing strategy for tourism products

The organisation "Amistad", which acts as an incubator for tourism products, combines theforces of tourism promoters and specialists in Catharism. Its task is to create and develop cultural products on the Cathar Country theme. For the village of Villerouge, this takes the form of discovery what daily life was like in medieval times: gastronomy, smallholding, plants. The village of Puivert is organised around a centre of medieval music. The mining sector and the trade in metals are set off around the Lastours château.

The communication policy is the main direct marketing tool for these products. They are also proposed in the form of package holidays to tour operators.

This is because although communication is the strong point of the "Cathar Country", it is not sufficient to win it significant market shares on the tourism market without recourse to the large-scale distributors.

In light of the scale of the project and its quality, direct promotion will have to be teamed up with partners in mass distribution for these cultural tourism products.

2. The Cathar Country: a method for developing tourism on the basis of heritage exploitation

* The policy aiming at the development of tourism is targeted entirely on the Cathar Country image and revolves around a network of 8 focal sites, for each of which a specific theme has been selected, raising their individual force of attraction. They connect up with one another through a sophisticated sign-posting system, enabling tourists to spend more time in the area while following a cultural tourism route.

* Each focal site is designed as a cultural venture with the aim of obtaining a maximum amount of induced economic activity from the site.

For example: after visiting the Puivert Château, tourists are invited by signposting to discover in the village the museum of medieval music and, in its immediate surroundings, traditional craft shops, marked footpaths, inns and cottages.

* The work on these focal sites is accompanied by programmes for the architectural improvement of the villages and for the creation of hotels with character, giving overall consistency and making the Cathar Country a real "culture park".

Landscaping plans are also part of this very meticulous development work.

3. An Example of the Integration of Tourism into the Local Economy

* The Cathar Country does not let itself be deceived by the illusion that tourism alone can provide the answer. Tourism forms part of an overall strategy for the promotion of an area and its different activities, with the search for a maximum of induced effects.

* The programme of development around the 8 focal sites is accompanied by a set of measures to stimulate SMEs, the craft industry and proximity services and a plan to exploit agricultural and forestry products:

- development of a wide range of "Cathar Country" farm products,

- implementation of a training programme for tourist guides and couriers,

- exchange for the public contracts generated by LEADER,

- Minitel job exchange,

- promotion outside the area of the know-how of Cathar Country companies in the restoration of the heritage and cultural engineering,

- wide-ranging training plan for all the economic operators involved: business creators, people working in the tourism business, group couriers.

* This strategy is accompanied by economic indicators monitoring the programme

The projected results are:

-increase in visitor rate by 160,000 people per annum (currently 640,000 visitors), representing a forecast additional turnover of 24,000,000 FRF (150 FRF: daily estimated expenditure of one visitor)

-increase of potential tourism accommodation by 240 beds (100 in hotels, 140 in approved cottages), generating additional turnover of 8,400,000 FRF (250 FRF: daily estimated expenditure of a person staying overnight)

-guaranteeing of 300 to 500 varied jobs in the Tourism sector and at least as many induced jobs in other sectors, i.e. in all between 600 and 1,000 jobs.

The partners in the project are however very aware that everything hinges on the ability of the local action group to mobilise human resources, whose level remains low (population density of 14 inhabitants per km², 37% of the population aged over 60).

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