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Kostas E. Sillignakis – www.sillignakis.


“Rural Tourism: An opportunity for sustainable

development of rural areas”

By Kostas E. Sillignakis


The declining fortunes of the primary sector in advanced economies, confronting

the impacts of globalization, and the efforts of third world nations to gain a
foothold on the ladder of economic and social development, have served to focus
increasing attention on rural tourism.

This report has as main objective:

• To clearly identify the concept and the role of rural tourism.


Tourism is usually viewed as being multidimensional, possessing physical,

social, cultural, economic and political characteristics. “Definitions of tourism
share a range of common elements” (Dowling 2001, p24). However, this report
will adapt the approach of Mathieson and Wall (1982) that tourism is the
temporary movement of people to destinations out of their normal home and
workplace, the activities undertaken during the stay, and the facilities created to
cater for their needs.

Tourism is the fastest growing industry in the world. According to the World
Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) tourism is the world’s largest industry
generating 12% of the global gross national product and it employs around 200

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million people worldwide (WTTC, 1995). The current growth rate is 4%, but it is
the natural areas tourism which is the most rapidly growing segment of tourism
and the WTO estimates it generates approximately 20% of all international travel
expenditures (WTO, 1998b).

Tourism in the 21st century will be the biggest industry of the world. Tourist
arrivals are estimated to reach 1 billion by 2010 and 1,6 by 2020, and people will
holiday more often, maybe two to four times per year (Pearce, 1995). Tourist
arrivals are predicted to grow by an average 4,3% a year over the next two
decades, while receipts from international tourism will climb by 6,7% a year
(WTO, 1999). Along with this great growth, the tourism industry will also have to
take on more responsibility for its wide impacts, on the economy, on the
environment, on societies and on cultural sites (Dowling 2001).


Tourism is synthesized from mass and alternative tourism. Mass tourism is

characterized by large numbers of people seeking relevant to their culture
holidays in popular resort destinations. Alternative tourism is sometimes referred
to as “special interest tourism” or “responsible tourism” and its usually taken to
mean alternative forms of tourism which give emphasis on the contact and
understanding of inhabitants’ way of living and the local natural environment
(Smith & Eadington, 1992). As to the specific forms of alternative tourism,
Mieczkowski (1995) identifies such forms as cultural, educational, scientific,
adventure, agri-tourism, with rural, ranch and farm subsets. (Figure 1.1)

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(conventional, standard, TOURISM
Large-scale tourism)

Cultural Educational Scientific Adventure Agri-Tourism

(Rural, Farm, Ranch)

Nature Tourism OR Ecotourism

Figure 1.1 (Mieczkowski, 1995: 459)

The development of the environmental movement in the 1980s helped to the

development and the increasement of the availability and the range of holiday
types which was more environmentally friendly than these which was associated
with Mass tourism. Alternative tourism can be broadly defined “as forms of
tourism that is made to be friendly to the environment and to respect social and
cultural values of the communities, and which allow both hosts and guests to
enjoy positive and worthwhile interaction and shared experiences” (Wearing &
Neil, 2000, p38).

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Cater et al. (1994) notes that alternative tourism comprises small scale, locally
owned activities. She suggests that these contrasts with mass tourism, which is
often characterized by large-scale multinational concerns, which repatriate the
profits to offshore countries. Other characteristics of alternative tourism include
its minimal negative environmental and social impacts, and also help to develop
other sectors of the local economy as agriculture. Finally, alternative tourism also
fosters the involvement of local people in the decision making process and
includes them in the tourism development process. Using these criteria,
alternative tourism exceed purely a concern for the physical environment that
typifies green tourism, to include economic, social and cultural considerations.
“Thus alternative tourism can be viewed as being synonymous with the concept
of sustainable tourism development” (Holden, 2000, p137).


“The detraditionalisation associated with modernity is also marked by a growing

reflexivity both at individual and institutional levels” (Urry, 1995, p87). As Urry
(1995) points out, one of the most important consequences of this reflexivity is an
increased concern for the environment, and a growing awareness of the links
between the local and the global environment. In the shift from an “industrial to a
“risk” society (Eagles 1992), the need for development to be “sustainable”
becomes paramount. Local communities become important in terms of actions
taken to pretend their own natural environment, and also form part of wider
alliances to preserve the environment globally (Richards & Hall, 2000). Place-
based communities have become more interested to the concept of
sustainability, which integrates environmental, economic, political, cultural and
social considerations. In this way there is recognition that to be sustainable, the
preservation of the “natural” environment must be grounded in the communities
and societies, which exploit and depend upon it (Richards & Hall, 2000).

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“The concept of sustainable development results from the observation that

current generations are imposing too great of a demand upon the natural
environment to allow it to continue to reproduce and maintain itself at its previous
level of stability” (Butler et al, 1998, p557). The principle of sustainable
development has been applied to tourism. Sustainable tourism therefore seeks to
sustain the quantity, quality and productivity of both human and natural resource
systems over time, while respecting and accommodating the dynamics of such
systems (Reid, 1991). Sustainable tourism is developed and managed together
with the principles of sustainable development (Hunter and Green, 1995). These
principles of sustainable development are based on the theory of carrying
capacity (Butler et al, 1998). Although it is an ecology term, carrying capacity has
been applied to humans and, more specifically to tourists. It has been defined for
this purpose as “the maximum number of people who can use a site without an
unacceptable alteration in the physical environment and without an unacceptable
decline in the quality of the experience gained by visitors” (Mathieson and Wall,
1982, p168). This definition says that tourism carrying capacity is concerned with
only two components, the quality of the environment and the quality of the
recreation experience (Richards and Hall, 2000). Pritchard (1992), in clarifying
their understanding of carrying capacity, add to Mathieson’s and Wall’s definition
by stating that carrying capacity is also concerned with the social and
psychological capacity of the physical setting to support tourist activity and
development. In addition McIntyre and Hetherington (1991) include the ability of
the local community, economy and culture to support tourist activity.


Conservation as a policy is a long-established approach to environmental

protection. In a general sense such a policy may be aiming to achieve the
sustainable management of renewable resources such as soil, forests and
fisheries. More specifically, conservation policies involve the designation of
protected status for landscapes, habitats or individual species; as more of these

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resources are lost or threatened, the importance of conservation is increased

(Tribe et al., 2000).


Rural tourism is among the most polymorphous of all forms of Special Interest
Tourism (SIT). The diversity of attractions included within rural tourism embrace:
Indigenous and European heritage sites

• Aspects of culture (agriculture)

• Industrial tourism (farm practices)
• Educetioanl tourism
• Special events
• Ecological attractions
• Adventure tourism
• Wine tourism

Such diversity represents major opportunities for rural areas that have turned to
tourism as a means of supplementing diminished incomes (Douglas, 2001).


Geographic and demographic definitions:

“A multi-faced activity that takes place in an environment outside heavily
urbanized areas. It is an industry sector characterized by small scale tourism
business, set in areas where land use id dominated by agricultural pursuits,
forestry or natural areas” (Department of Tourism, 1994: 3)

Product-related definitions:

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“The Rural Tourism product could be segmented to include such product

components as rural attractions, rural adventure tours, nature based tours,
ecotourism tours, country towns, rural resorts and country-style accommodation,
and farm holidays, together with festivals, events and agricultural education”
(Department of Tourism, 1994:4).

Tourist experience-related definitions:

“Rural Tourism should be seen as offering a different range of experience to
those offered in big cities” and that “the emphasis in rural tourism is on the
tourist’s experience of the products and activities of the area” (Department of
Tourism, 1994: 3).

Consequently, rural tourism in its purest form should be:

1. Located in rural areas.

2. Functionally rural – built upon the rural world’s special features of small-
scale enterprise, open space, contact with nature and the natural world,
heritage, “traditional” societies and “traditional” practises.
3. Rural in scale – both in terms of buildings and settlements – and,
therefore, usually small-scale.
4. Traditional in character, growing slowly and organically, and connected
with local families. It will often be very largely controlled locally and
developed for the long term good of the area.
5. Of many different kinds, representing the complex pattern of rural
environment, economy, history and location.
(Lane 1994: 14)

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Social and Cultural

The most influential statement on the social and cultural impacts is Bouqeut and
Winter’s (1987) diverse anthology of studies on the conflict and political debates
associated with rural tourism. They consider the relationship between tourism,
politics and the issue of policies to control and direct tourism and recreation in
the countryside in the postwar period.
In contrast, Neate (1987) considers farm-based tourism in the Scilly Isles in
relation to attempts to diversify the economic base of family owned farms in the
climate of declining profitability in agriculture.
Vincent (1987) argues that rural tourism development requires that close-knit
communities adapt to the incursion of capitalism in the expansion of tourism,
where family independence, traditional values and cultural traditions may be
adversely affected.
The role of women in rural tourism has also belatedly attracted interest as a
highly seasonal and unstable economic activity, since tourism is one of the few
opportunities taken up by women but also contributes to the marginal status of
women in the rural workforce.
Increasingly, native people are becoming involved in tourism to help meet their
own goals of independence and cultural survival, yet tourism development
carries specials risks for them. There are also special problems related to
obtaining financing for projects, training with cultural sensitivity, attitudes towards
work and service, and making decisions communally (Smith, 1997).
In communities with low economic activity and low tourism development there will
be high hopes and expectations of tourism (Johnson et al., 1994). It has also be
notedthat long term residents of rural areas are much more likely to support
growth and change than newcomers, usually because the newcomers moved
there for amenities which they do not want changed (Getz, 1994).

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The Economic impact

The economic impact of rural tourism has been a fruitful area for research among
a range of social scientists, often emphasizing or challenging the role of tourism
as a panacea for all the economic and social ills of the countryside (Getz, 1981).
But Butler and Clark rightly acknowledge, tourism in rural areas is not necessarily
the magic solution to rural development, given its:

“Income leakages, volatility, declining multiplier, low pay, imported labor and the
conservatism of investors. The least favored circumstance in which to promote
tourism is when the rural economy is already weak, since tourism will create
highly unbalanced income and employment distributions. It is better supplement
for a thriving and diverse economy than as a mainstay of rural development“
(Butler and Clark, 1992: 175).

The environmental effect

In a rural context, the growing pressure emerging from the development-

intensive nature of tourism and the expansion of Mass tourism has posed many
new pressures as “new tourism” discovers the qualities of rural environments. In
fact, the construction of theme parks in rural environments, second homes
(Gartner, 1987), timeshare, conference centers, holiday villages have all
contributed to the insatiable tourism appetite for rural environments.
A number of recent special issues of journals have also focused on sustainability
and rural tourism. However, it is apparent that tourism in rural context displays
many of the features of the symbolic relationship, which exists between tourism
and the environment. For these reason it is appropriate to consider the tourism
resource base, emphasizing supply and demand features in relation to the
business aspects of Rural tourism (Page and Getz, 1997).

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Primary producers and rural communities have increasingly turned to tourism as

an alternative means of achieving sustainable economic growth and
development through restructuring, and greater diversification, of economic
activity. Hall (1998) for example, has observed “tourism has emerged as one of
the central means by which rural areas can adjust themselves economically,
socially and politically to the new global environment”. Hall (1998) perceive that
expansion of tourism in rural areas as designed to:

• Sustain and create local incomes, employment and growth

• Contribute to the costs of providing economic and social infrastructure
• Encourage the development of other industrial sectors
• Contribute to local resident amenities and services
• Contribute to the conservation of environmental and cultural resources


Tourist commission gives these characteristics to rural tourists:

1. Better educated
2. More discerning in their demands
3. More interest in “green” issues
4. More health conscious
5. Greater interest in specialty food (Tourist Commission, 1995)

“ Identifying and segmenting the rural tourism market is probably the least
researched and understood process in the rural tourism system” (Page and Getz,
1997: 17)

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Also, “The true dimensions of the rural tourism market are difficult to assess
because of the nature of statistical definitions” (O’Hollaran, 2000: 129)


O’Halloran (2002) provides important insights into the motives of those visiting
rural destinations that may well reflect those of domestic visitors. Visiting friends
and relatives in the region and “word of mouth recommendation” accounted for
almost 50% of the responses analysed. About 12% of those surveyed had an
interest in visiting rural areas with a slightly smaller percentage listing nature-
based activities as their reason for visiting. In terms of future growth potential, a
number of O’Halloran’s respondents reported being on a return visit. However,
for these and other rural visitors improvements in shopping facilities and
merchandise would enhance their visit (O’Halloran, 2000).

“A motivating factor for tourists to visit rural areas is to experience, or at least

view, what is still thought of as the “rural idyll” (Beeton 1999: 28)”.


Rural tourism could be a strategy for sustainable development for rural areas and
also could be a tool for product differentiation for area that are at stagnation
stage of the Destination Life Cycle model of Butler (1986). Although, Tourist
commission advises that:

1. Not all areas are suitable for development

2. Not all communities wish to be developed or are suitable for development
3. Not all forms of tourism activity are acceptable in every location

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4. There may have to be employed to prevent or repair environmental

damage caused by visitor pressure

Rural tourism is a good opportunity for agricultural based communities but the
setting of objectives and the final tourism development plan needs caution. For
better results the whole range of the stakeholders have to participate in the
planning stage. Slow and stable steps needs for this kind of planning in order
conflicts and mistakes to be avoided.


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2. Butler R., Hall M., Jenkins J., (1998) “Tourism and recreation in rural
areas”, Wiley, Chichester
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4. Douglas N, Derrett R., (2001), “Special Interest Tourism”, Wiley, London
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ecology impacts and management”, Channel View, New York
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sensitive areas”, Longman, London
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developments”, Annals of tourism research, Volume 10. No.2
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Volume 2, No.7
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University press of America, Maryland
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hospitality, La Trobe University
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Business Express, London

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17. Prichard W., (1992), “Changing the essence, the art of creating and
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