Marketing Quality Rural Tourism
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
Eight LEADER areas have joined forces to promote and
market cultural holidays. The venture has been baptised
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
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
- Tierra de Campos
- Sierra Sur
- Province de Cáceres
- in liaison with
Valle del Jerte
- Sierra de Maria (Province de Almeria not part of LEADER)
- Basilicata Sud Occidentale
- Serra do Caldeirão
- Sao Mamede National Park(not part of
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
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
* 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 (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
- the privilege of an off-season break, standing out from
- 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
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
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
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
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
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
* 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
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
* on the other, sell the products of the other members of
Préalpes Drômoises will thus sell
both its products and those of all the other areas on the
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
* design and harmonisation of the product range.
* marketing and promotion coordination.
* management of a label and quality charter.
* joint services for:
- computer technology and telecommunications,
- engineering - training,
- cash flow pooling,
- grouped negotiations with transport, insurance
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
TIERRA DE CAMPOS, Castile Forgotten at the Heart of Spain
- "Castilian Rural Life between the Harvests and
- "The Craft Workshops of Tierra de Campos"
THE PROVINCE OF CáCERES, The Extreme Land of Spain
- "Transhumance on Horseback in
- "The Route through the Cities of Art and
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"