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The Family, a Niche for Rural Tourism

(Pillerseetal, Tyrol, Austria, March 1999)

Family tourism is a type of tourism where accommodation, meals, recreational activity and prices are specially adapted to suit the needs and comfort of families with children. In March 1999 in St Ulrich am Pillersee in Austria, a LEADER seminar was held to explore the opportunity for such a form of tourism in rural areas whose tourism facilities and attractions are diverse and scattered.

The seminar was designed to examine the family tourism opportunity in the context of the findings of a research programme being carried out by the Tourism Unit of DG XXIII of the European Commission. The programme sought a permanent approach to the management of tourism destinations whose aim is to improve visitor satisfaction, while seeking to avoid the negative impact of tourism on the environment and quality of like of local communities. Rural destinations were an integral part of this research programme Integrated Quality Management (IQM) of Tourism Destinations.

Integrated Quality Management of Rural Tourism Destinations

The principles of IQM in rural destinations were presented to the seminar participants to provide a broad context for the detailed work on the development and marketing of rural destinations for families, which was to be undertaken during the seminar. A tourism destination pursuing quality management should be able to demonstrate three basic characteristics:

1) Essential to the process was a clear strategy widely agreed locally, with good partnership between the tourism enterprises and all other players and with lead organisation co-ordinating.

Questions to be considered by the partnership:

- what is the place of family tourism as part of the overall strategy? (what priority to give this market and what role can it play?);
- will it help meet your overall tourism objectives? (e.g. by extending the season, increasing the length of stay, or creating more added value);
- do you have the right market and product strengths? (is there a potential family market in your area; are families already coming, if yes, can this be increased if not, why not?);
- do you have the right resources? (can you compete effectively with other areas, what new facilities or improvements are needed);
- who should take the lead? (a new family tourism product does not necessarily need a new organisation. The existing tourism marketing organisation could well perform the task);
- how should local businesses and the wider community become involved? (all aspects of a destination should reflect the needs of the selected market, including shops, recreation enterprises, transport etc);
- what geographical area should be covered? (It can be hard for small local destinations to have enough resources to make and impact on their own);
- can you express a vision in terms of action? Can you turn your strategy into reality?

The IQM study identified the following as essential to success:

  • widespread consultation;

  • a well expressed vision to network people;

  • measurable targets;

  • clearly expressed action plans;

  • ongoing.

 

2) Delivering quality at all stages of the visit experience is about attention to detail in delivering quality services and facilities:

- Messages and images need to be positive, appealing and accurate, and should appeal to the whole family, not just children.

- Consideration needs to be given to the kind of packages, which can be created, and what the travel trade is looking for.

- There is a need to build and mainstream direct communications before, after and during the visit, e.g. through schools, baby & toddler groups, and post natal support groups and via newsletters and mailings.

- Hosts play a strong role in providing a warm welcome and the right information where and when it is wanted and this is critical to delivering quality.

- The family market may be more price conscious but it is increasingly concerned about standards. It is important to consider the different opportunities offered by different forms of accommodation sought by families.

- There is a need for sufficient attractions to retain the visitors interest. There is scope for improving the way existing attractions are interpreted for children, open farms are popular and many areas energetically put on special events programmes aimed at families.

- Do not try to be sophisticated in creating attractions and events. - Providing safe countryside access is important, local sport and play facilitates used by local people and visitors alike can have an important role, as can the opportunity to enjoy nature, farm animals, walks and picnics.

- Transport to and within the area is also important, as is the stock in local shops, access to medical services and cleanliness.

 

3) Monitoring is the third component of the IQM approach.

- Be clear about the needs and expectations of visitors. Look at market studies, undertake research, see what others are doing.

- Listen to your visitors – not just by surveys but by asking questions.

- Special quality standards can be considered (is there a need for special criteria, backed up by a label for enterprises that are specifically geared to the needs of families?).

- Feed back is essential in designing training and support systems

- Assess if business has improved as the result of the initiative.

- Building trust, mutual support and exchange is crucial to obtaining this information.

 

Examples of good practice

The seminar aimed to convey the idea that families are customers whose needs can be met with the wonderful assets offered by the rural world, beautiful scenery, safe and healthy environment, authentic nature, outdoor activities, reasonable prices and a warm welcome. The seminar was set in Pillersee because the area was in the process of establishing a Family Tourism product and participants could experience a project that was in the development stage of implementing a tourism policy that gives priority to children. Visits were made to a farm attraction, an agri tourism farm and a local tourism school. The seminar was held in a family orientated hotel.

The presentations and workshops illustrated many of the points made in the TQM presentation of Richard Denman. These included:

- Oberes Altmühltal Mittelfranken – a complete family orientated village where tourists are encouraged to take part in village activities enjoyed by the local people – the village fair, the children’s playground, but also where simple additional activities were organised for the tourist – tractor rides, milking the cow, barbecues, games and handicrafts and a pirates day.

Under LEADER I the farm holiday product was developed alogside holidays based on culture and trails. The rural development group organised training which led to the creation of an interest group - Hosts on the Farm. There are now 16 farms involved and there is a group marketing strategy, with promotional tools. A quality charter is being prepared. The project has a) mobilised the community, creating the village community of Lauterbach Interest Group; b) helped create a new identity for the village, strengthening cohesion; c) helped sustain jobs, and created three new jobs. 13 apartments have been constructed using local labour; d) given the area an image - ‘Romantic Franconica’. Handmade regional and farm products are used as tools to communicate the image; e) contributed to a larger offer of high quality services for tourists of all ages giving Lauterbach a competitive edge over ther towns in the area.

- Habachklause Family Farmhouse Hotel, Austria – a family owned hotel adapted by young owners to the needs of families and opened in 1996 after a two year planning period. The target clients were families with children aged three to fifteen years. There is space and safety in the guest rooms to enable guests to spend quality time in the rooms, playing facilities indoors and outdoors, recreational activities for those who want them, including animal watching, pony rides, cooking, Crazy Olympics and specially trained staff who are children oriented. The hotel is situated in the Park Hohe Tourism Nature Reserve.

- Folly Farm, Wales – a farm diversification activity to encourage visitors to the farm to learn more about farming activities, has been developed over 10 years into a major farm tourism attraction, offering education walks, a museum, tractor rides, a vintage fun fair, demonstrations, hands on experience of farm animal, including milking and bottle feeding. In the first year there were 18,000 visitors, in 1998 181,000 visitors with a turnover of EUR 1,785,000. The owner of the project stresses the following key points:

  • Good research is vital

  • Make use of resources you already have wherever possible

  • Recruit and train local staff

  • Keep standards high, provide a quality experience

  • Continual market research is essential e.g. through satisfaction questionnaires

  • Devise ways of keeping in touch with customers – newsletters, children’s club magazine

  • Effective promotion and advertising brings in customers

  • Always be aware of what competitors are doing

  • Continued re-investment in the development of the attraction

 

Recommendations

The discussions following the workshops identified the following recommendations:

- Family tourism must be a multi faceted offer, with parents and children able to choose activities, which can be many small things based on local resources.

- There is a need for good co-operation and integration between sectors, between residents, between accommodation providers, between staff.

- Management must be professional and well organised.

- Good animation is essential through activities, and through museums, shops etc.

- Training is vital to ensure a high quality.

- Time and effort spent on market research will lead to effective marketing and branding and design of packages.

- Evaluation is essential if products are to be more effectively targeted and improved.

To ensure maximum benefit to the local economy, efforts must be made to share the product between all sectors, accommodation providers, and attractions. Family tourism should be integrated with local rural development activities in a holistic approach.


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