In most of Europe, summer has set in, and many families are preparing for their annual holidays. Today, in times of stress, hectic pace, lack of time for ourselves and yearning for quality-life activities, rural tourism represents an excellent opportunity to escape the stressful everyday life in our cities and provides the possibility of spending a pleasant holiday which evokes nostalgia for the times of our grandmothers.
Rural tourism means holidays outside of our cities and towns, where there is a low population density and villages where the visitors engage in outdoors activities and participation in rural lifestyle, often in scenic locations. This type of tourism is an inexpensive and educational experience that can be enjoyed by the whole family.
Tourism in general is important for our economies. It is a fast growing sector and in Europe, the tourism industry generates more than 5% of the EU GDP, with about 1,8 million companies employing around 5,2% of the total labour force (approximately 9,7 million jobs). When related sectors are taken into account, the estimated contribution of tourism to GDP creation is much higher: tourism indirectly generates more than 10% of the European Union’s GDP and provides about 12% of the labour force.
Rural tourism is an activity that can have a significant impact on the economic, social and functional structure of rural areas, not only in the advanced economies but also in developing nations where farmland has become fragmented due to population growth. In Europe, rural tourism is popular in Italy, Spain and France as well as other European countries. Further below in this article, I give two examples from from the south and north of the continent, Croatia and Sweden.
If developed smart, in accordance with the principles of ecological and sustainable development, rural tourism can be one of the initiators of revitalization of rural areas and one of the factors that may have a critical role in restoration and sustainable rural development.
The European Union provides project funding for investments in rural and eco-tourism, such as the Ecotourism Knowledge Network. The EU also considers tourism as one of the sectors that can provide a valuable contribution to the achievement of the Europe Horizon 2020 objectives.
The benefits arising from the development of rural tourism are multiple and are reflected primarily in preventing departure of working-age segment of the population from farms and rural areas, construction of utilities and public social infrastructure, raising awareness of the preservation of tradition and cultural heritage and the realization of additional income in the economy.
Rural tourism can consolidate, restore and organize the village in a completely different way, in order to obtain a tourist focus and to use the space and the existing structure in the best possible way, without degrading the natural environment.
It is the indispensable factor in the activation and sustainable development of rural areas, which helps to preserve the local identity, traditions and customs, protects the environment and strengthens autonomous, traditional and ecological production and helps to develop rural areas on the basis of sustainable development.
Rural tourism is a term covering about twenty different forms of tourism that occur outside areas of cities and areas of mass tourism. It is characterized by tourist attractions that take place in rural areas. Its importance is reflected in the interaction between agricultural production, production of traditional products, traditional cuisine and tourist services, i.e.. the use of existing resources of rural areas and villages, as its constituent part.
Also, the revitalization of existing, traditional buildings and cultural heritage, which are given a new, modernized economic, i.e.. tourism purpose is very important. Taking into account the size of the area rich in natural beauties, authentic and healthy cuisine, rural tourism is becoming an increasingly important part of the overall contemporary tourist offer.
The basis for development of rural tourism are rural family farms, which are engaged in tourism as an additional activity. They are considered the paradigm of rural tourism, although there are other forms of business organizations as well, such as cooperatives and dedicated business companies.
As demand for this form of tourism offer increased, many European countries, such as Austria, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom began to encourage the development of tourism on farms and many European countries have today developed this form of tourism at a high level. In European countries, they were very well aware of the advantages of rural tourism on farms.
This form of tourism does not require large additional investments because farms already have a base to offer tourist facilities and participation in the farms lifestyle. The most important thing that had to be done in order to start the development was the encouragement by national and regional authorities that had to find ways to convince the population in the countryside that they can feel the benefits of tourism as well.
Today, there are between 600,000 and 1,000,000 registered facilities in Europe that provide services in rural tourism, with up to 12 million beds. Across Europe, it is estimated that there are 1.5 to 3 million employees engaged in hosting rural tourists.
Rural Tourism in Croatia
Croatia, with a vast countryside and sparsely populated hinterland, has a great potential for development of rural tourism. By its attraction basis, it does not lag behind in comparison to other European countries that have remarkably well develop rural tourism, indeed, with the wealth of its rural area, it overcomes many of them.
Croatian rural areas, which accounts for about 90 percent of the surface of Croatia, is very diverse, from the coastal hinterland and north-eastern mountainous areas to the large and fertile plains of the east. Within this area, there is a rich cultural and natural heritage, of world and international importance. As we are currently working with Eastern Slavonia, we see the massive untapped potential.
Considering the natural and cultural diversity of its regions, rich resource base of the tourist attractions, preserved environment and more than 100,000 registered agricultural farms, Croatia has the prerequisites for the development of rural tourism, and other special forms of tourism related to the rural area, but those, so far, have not been fully used for the development of tourism. The main reasons for the underdevelopment of rural tourism in Croatia is overemphasized orientation on development of maritime tourism on the beautiful Adriatic coast.
Even though three quarters of Croatian rural areas have the characteristics of socio-economic crisis, rural tourism is not yet used systematically as a tool to revitalize the problem of rural areas. Despite recognising the importance of rural tourism as a possible mean of development, as well as great potential for the enhancement of selective forms of tourism, Croatia is still in the initial stage of development of this form of tourism, and tourism on rural family farms in particular.
Although, since 1996. when the operational and organizational development of rural tourism in Croatia began, until today, the number of registered tourist rural family farms at the national level is continuously increasing. A number of regulations and laws governing the provision of tourism and hospitality services in village households were passed and the main strategic goals of Croatian tourism in rural areas were defined as well.
Also, considering that Croatia has a rich and diverse, but poorly guarded traditional architectural heritage, the Ministry of Tourism began to systematically co-finance individual projects preserving traditional architectural heritage through the Programme of incentives, protection, restoration and involvement of natural and cultural heritage in tourism in the underdeveloped areas. In that way, natural and cultural landscapes with authentic, diverse traditional architecture become basic tourism resources.
Today, there are over 460 registered family tourist farms in Croatia. Rural tourism on these family farms is the most developed in the coastal area, more specifically in the region of Istria.
Although numerous experiences from the world show that compound of sun and beach and rural tourism is not necessary nor essential for its development, since guests who choose the tourist rural households have a different understanding of rest, it is evident, from examples of Istria and Dubrovnik-Neretva County that more diverse attractive factors, with developed tourism infrastructure and tradition of tourism, plays an important role.
The great advantage of rural tourism is that it can be sold all 12 months of the year, and that could be the solution for the biggest problem of Croatian tourism – seasonality. Today, there are various stimulating development programs for rural tourism, in inland areas, but also counties on the coast, with the aim of extending the tourist season and giving a new quality of total Croatian tourism.
Rural Tourism in Sweden
In the Spring the Swedish countryside is waking up after the cold fierce Winter. The days quickly become longer and it is more likely that when you wake up it is no longer dark outside. Random flowers pop up and in the distance you hear birds twittering. Then in the summer, daylight lasts from the moment you wake up and as late as ten-eleven at night. This is the season when Swedes spend as much time as possible outdoors, when the sun is bright and the sky is blue with a few scattered, fluffy cumulous clouds.
Rural tourism is increasingly important in East Sweden, where we work with regional development since many years, as we have written about in previous articles, including the study the Digital Visitor. The landscape of east Sweden is primarily agricultural with pleasant villages and small towns.
If you head up north you can quite easily stay out all day and all night and darkness will not even set. In the countryside, you can hear the sounds of farm animals, birds, boats rumbling on the thousands of lakes, people dive in for a swim for the real outdoor nature experience and then rush out to the smell of a barbecue and if you are lucky as you walk back home from the fun of the day you might even catch the silhouette of a playful deer jumping in the fields, or the silhouette of a mighty moose on the other side of the field.
The agri-tourism farm stay concept is organized by Bo på Lantgård (literally meaning, ‘Staying on a farm’). You can opt for self-catering or bed and breakfast. It is a wholesome type of holiday – fresh farm eggs, freshly baked farmhouse bread and farm animals, and if you opt for self-catering, be assured that the farm hosts will not bother you unless you want it. Swedes excel in respecting privacy.
Bo på Lantgård even organize the farm stays into themes. Choose from a horse, fishing, motor biking or conference theme with accommodation options ranging from country cottage style to manor houses. There are also many internet pages about specific Swedish farms or locations, such as this one.