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The Warsaw Voice » Travel » April 25, 2013
Rural tourism
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A Boost for Development?
April 25, 2013   
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Rural tourism could be one of many factors helping Poland’s rural areas develop, but in most such regions it cannot be expected to play a key role.

Rural tourism should be treated as a supplementary type of business in Poland’s rural areas rather than an alternative to agriculture, according to a study entitled Rural Tourism, Including Agritourism, as Components of Sustainable and Diversified Rural Development.” The study, conducted by consulting firm Agrotec Polska and the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Geography and Spatial Organization, aims to identify directions in which rural tourism should develop in Poland in the long term.

The study points out that the role of tourism as a stimulant to rural development is often assessed by officials in charge of programming local and regional development, and these officials tend to overestimate local tourist potential. In general, documents setting out strategies and plans are over-optimistic in estimating the economic benefits that rural tourism could potentially bring to different regions and rural districts, according to the study.

Regions in Poland with high potential to foster a strong tourist sector are the Carpathian Mountains, the Kłodzko Valley, the Białowieża Forest, the ¦więtokrzyskie Mountains, the Baltic coast, and the Suwałki Lake District. Małopolska province is where tourism could become a strong stimulant to economic growth, followed by Podkarpacie, Pomerania, West Pomerania, Podlasie and Warmia-Mazuria provinces. Other than that, rural districts where the conditions are conducive to tourism are few and scattered all over the country, the study says. Consequently, rural tourism should be regarded as an extra form of income generation in rural areas rather than an alternative to the agricultural sector.

Rural tourism can, on the other hand, play a major part in strengthening the social and human capital in rural areas in Poland and help protect and renew the cultural heritage of the countryside. Seen like that, it could be part of diversified and sustainable rural development.

A major challenge facing rural tourism in Poland is that different tourism associations and institutions have a limited influence on the work of around 80 percent of service providers. Most of the rural tourism service providers interviewed for the study said they mainly worked with their families and neighbors rather than being part of organizations bringing together local residents. At the same time, they were highly skeptical about whether there is a point in working for the common good.

A key challenge for the system of institutional support for rural tourism is to reach potential accommodation providers, who constitute a sizable group, according to the study. The goal is to advise them about EU funds available to them and concentrate efforts to prompt them to enter the market for tourism services. They should be encouraged to be open to interaction with other accommodation providers and tourism institutions.

Interviews with members of tourism associations and organizations as well as so-called Local Action Groups have shown that providers of accommodation and other tourism services vary significantly in terms of entrepreneurial activity and usually operate locally. They are much more active in areas where income from tourism services accounts for a large part of total household income.

The study has also shown that, while those working to promote rural tourism in Poland adequately address present-day challenges, they could have problems meeting future challenges. Simple products such as food and accommodation can be successfully advertised by individual service providers, but promoting complex products and creating product networks and image campaigns for regions should be handled by public organizations. The goal of these is to conduct market research, promote regional and national products and provide tools such as websites to help individual service providers adapt their products and services.

New trends in rural tourism necessitate better coordination and promotion of both individual services and entire product packages, the Rural Tourism study says. Another challenge is to mobilize a large part of accommodation providers who have so far not been involved in any form of organized cooperation.

Looking at the demand-to-supply ratio in rural tourism, the study has found the market to be economically imbalanced. “The expectations which tourists have sometimes contradict or exceed what accommodation providers have to offer,” the study says. “But it has to be said that more products and services are becoming available … in a trend that is bound to translate into greater interest among tourists.”

New trends in rural tourism include ecotourism and health-oriented tourism, according to the study.

A major problem with the market for rural tourism is that many of the services and products of this kind are seasonal. While in summer only 18 percent of accommodation remains vacant, the vacancy rate increases to 70 percent during other seasons, and many accommodation providers struggle to make ends meet in the absence of guests in winter, spring and autumn. The future looks bright, however, the study says, thanks to changes taking place in global tourism whereby people are cutting their expenses on foreign trips and choosing to travel shorter distances and visit places they have been to before. These changes are believed to be a consequence of the latest economic crisis. Over 38 percent of tourists and potential tourists plan to spend vacations in rural areas more often than before. This is coupled with a continually growing range of rural tourism products and services.

The Rural Tourism study recommends that Poland create a nationwide system to evaluate rural tourism services. The system should be based on regularly conducted surveys based on uniform methodology so that surveys from different regions could be easily compared. It is also necessary to encourage service providers to utilize social networking media and other interactive forms of online communication, such as booking systems, to advertise and promote their own products, the study says.
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