IMPORTANT LEGAL NOTICE: The information on this site is subject to a disclaimer and a copyright notice.

Marketing Quality Rural Tourism

| back to contents' page |

LEADER I and tourism: some examples

Via Mediterranea: first steps of a Mediterranean cultural tourism network between LEADER areas
document type: case study
keywords: tourism, methodology, heritage
source: LEADER technical dossier
last update:3/95

Eight LEADER areas have joined forces to promote and market cultural holidays. The venture has been baptised "Via Mediterranea".

1. Summary of the project

Via Mediterranea is an organisation set up in November 1991 with the aid of the "Conference of the Peripheral Maritime Regions of the European Community". It groups together 10 rural areas from the Mediterranean hinterland with the aim of developing a cultural tourism network specialised in medium- and top-range package holidays.

It has been constituted in the legal form of an Association governed by French law where each partner is represented; eight of the member areas belong to the LEADER network.

  • Spain
    • Tierra de Campos
    • Sierra Sur
    • Province de Cáceres
    • in liaison with Valle del Jerte
    • Sierra de Maria (Province de Almeria not part of LEADER)
  • Italy
    • Basilicata Sud Occidentale
  • Greece
    • Lassithi-Sitia
    • Ipiros
  • France
    • Préalpes Drômoises
  • Portugal
    • Serra do Caldeirão
    • Sao Mamede National Park(not part of LEADER)

Via Mediterranea has moved beyond the drawing board stage to a pre-operational phase and has begun a real-scale marketing test in 1993 and 1994, culminating in 1995 in an operational phase with the creation of a cooperative tour operator.

2. Grounds for the project

The project to launch a tourism venture which promotes and markets cultural tourism in the rural areas of the Mediterranean hinterland was inspired by three observations:

* the tourism market is increasingly moving towards sophisticated tourism products which combine the accommodation and gastronomic side of holidays with organised activities, sold as a package.

Rural areas must also rise to this challenge, for it is a prerequisite for the better integration of rural tourism into the marketplace, and the addition of more value to the tourism activity;

* tourism (both rural and non-rural) is a broadly internationalised activity where an individual area marketing purely local products would have less commercial impact than a transnational network of tourism products offering a wide choice of destinations and holiday types;

* the shared image of a trip through the Mediterranean hinterland offered by Via Mediterranea has great potential, because the Mediterranean basin is the world's leading tourist destination, but it is unlikely that the increasingly saturated traditional "sun and sea" resorts will be able to absorb many more tourists.

3. Via Mediterranea's strategy

a. Customer profile

Since 1985, the big tour operators have been stagnating and the medium-sized ones are in crisis. Only small tour operators active in very specific sectors and offering individualised services to destinations which they know well are experiencing any growth. This is the slot chosen by Via Mediterranea, a small tour operator offering "turnkey" tourism products for customers wanting to go "off the beaten track" not interested in the standardised products of the big tour operators and who are looking for either well-designed, highly original holidays or for "kit" products, allowing them wide freedom of choice and organisation.

b. The style of the product

* The Via Mediterranea product is the exact opposite of mass products. It takes account of the tastes of a certain type of customer looking for:
- little-known places to discover (search for adventure),
- the privilege of an off-season break, standing out from the crowd,
- the intimacy of small groups,
- a very personalised welcome (desire to be a guest and not a customer),
- a flexible programme (fear of being dragooned into something),
somewhere with character more than hotel comfort.
* It should not be defined by the words "rural", "tourism" or "nature" but by the triangle Mediterranean - Culture - Landscape.
* It is a rare product and thus more expensive than that of mass tourism (around 600 ECU per week, exclusive of travel).

c. The market area

The marketing strategy of Via Mediterranea is based on three key ideas:

* priority to the national market - All the tourism specialists agree on this: the market with the greatest potential and which is easiest to prospect is the national market.
The interest of the Via Mediterranea network lies precisely in the fact that it diversifies the products on offer on the national market: for example, the French partner in the network offers, in addition to his own products, those of the Spanish, Greek, etc. partner to the French clientele and vice versa.
(See below "Organisation of the network");
* the Mediterranean area (The watchword of Via Mediterranea could perhaps being "selling the Mediterranean to the Mediterraneans") - The Western Mediterranean is a market, with cities and wealthy areas, offering a pool of potential customers for a Mediterranean tour operator.
The North European market is distant, difficult and boxed in by tour operators enjoying a monopoly;
* the rural market ("selling rural tourism to rural people") - Rural areas are another potential market and the LEADER network can provide an efficient marketing network, for it is sufficiently wide-ranging and diversified to promote tourist stays offering a real chance to discover an area and its people.

d. Distribution of the product

Via Mediterranea has adopted a "multi-faceted" strategy. It pursues all possible avenues, while concentrating first and foremost on:
* working with tour operators, through the grouped supply of products whose variety, quantity and quality, guaranteed by an organisation of producers, constitutes a plus;
* direct marketing:
- through drawing on an on-line reservation system connecting up the areas, currently at development stage;
- through establishing a communication policy to raise awareness of the Via Mediterranea network; and more especially micro-communication on very precise segments, introduced in 1993 and comprising a press attaché who makes contact with journalists reporting on tourism areas and holidays in the media in touch with the targeted clientele (literary, film and music magazines, radio broadcasts on cultural channels, country newspapers and magazines);
- in the long term, through creating a cooperative tour operator in rural tourism in the form of a holding company/group head responsible for marketing on the highly structured North European markets, to which direct access is difficult.

4. The organisational principles of the Mediterranean cultural tourism network

One key principle governs the organisation of the Via Mediterranea network: in the operational phase, each current partner will have to set up a cultural tourism company pursuing a dual objective:

* on the one hand, sell its own projects on the national market;
* on the other, sell the products of the other members of the network.
Préalpes Drômoises will thus sell both its products and those of all the other areas on the French market.
Seen in this light, the operation of the network is particularly judicious, for each national partner is everyone else's tour operator.
The extension of the range which everyone has to offer through the inclusion of new destinations will make it possible to increase turnover, and through product diversification to establish customer loyalty with a sufficiently varied and renewed range.
The inter-active nature of the network will be ensured in the framework of a cooperation structure fulfilling the following main tasks: * organisation of trade flows (prices - schedules) and arbitration rules.
* design and harmonisation of the product range.
* marketing and promotion coordination.
* management of a label and quality charter.
* joint services for:
- press/communication,
- computer technology and telecommunications,
- engineering - training,
- cash flow pooling,
- grouped negotiations with transport, insurance companies, etc.

It is with the aim of preparing the creation of such an organisation (in the form of a European Economic Interest Grouping) that the members of the network set up the Via Mediterranea association under the French law on associations of July 2, 1901 which governs non-profit organisations.

Via Mediterranea tourism products:

LA COMARCA DE LOS VELEZ, The Andalusian Uplands
  • "In Search of the Lost Paradise"
  • "The Olive-growing Civilisation"
SITIA, Authentic Crete
  • "From Lost Cities to Close-knit Villages"
  • "By Mountain Trails and Coastal Paths"
L'ALTO ALENTEJO, The Land of the White Villages
  • "In the Land of the White Villages"
  • "Following the Eagles along the Tagus"
LES BARONNIES, Drôme provençale
  • "The Lavender and Fragrances Route"
  • "Vines and Wines in Côtes-du-Rhône Country"
TIERRA DE CAMPOS, Castile Forgotten at the Heart of Spain
  • "Castilian Rural Life between the Harvests and Grape-picking"
  • "The Craft Workshops of Tierra de Campos"
THE PROVINCE OF CáCERES, The Extreme Land of Spain
  • "Transhumance on Horseback in Estremadura"
  • "The Route through the Cities of Art and History"
LA BASILICATA, Sea and Mountains in the Policastro Gulf
  • "Garibaldi's Route"
  • "Albanian Easter in the Park of Polino"
THE UPPER ALGARVE, The Garden of Southern Europe
  • "The Smugglers' Route"
  • "Going Up the Guadiana"

European Flag