The Warsaw Voice » Travel » Monthly - April 25, 2013
Rural tourism
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Promoting the Countryside
   
It is difficult to promote rural tourism services individually. Local associations bringing together tourist farms are important for the development of rural tourism.

There are over 10,000 tourist farms in Poland offering around 100,000 beds and the number of such farms is growing. With the decline in the profitability of agricultural production, rural tourism can provide farmers with an additional source of income. Another factor encouraging farmers is the European Union funding offered to those who want to set up a tourist farm. After his project has been completed, the farmer may apply to have 50 percent of their investment refunded, up to zl.100,000.

It is not difficult to set up a tourist farm in Poland. It is especially easy for farmers who grow crops or raise animals and for whom tourist services are an additional source of income. In this case, they do not have to register their tourist business. But there is one condition: they have to offer less than five rooms for tourists. If they have more rooms, it is considered to be a business operation, which has to be registered and is subject to taxation.

However, setting up a tourist farm is just the first step. The success of each project depends on whether the farm can attract tourists. This is where advertising comes in. A satisfied guest is the most effective form of advertising for a tourist farm. Statistics show that one satisfied guest on average tells four to eight people he knows that he is satisfied with his stay. As a result, a growing number of people are interested in a vacation on a farm recommended by someone they know.

The most important step is to attract the first guests, and then to reach those who have not heard yet about the tourist farm but would like to spend a vacation in the countryside.

Easier by teaming up

Experts say the development of rural tourism has reached a stage where efforts made by individual farmers to attract guests are often not sufficient. The success of local tourist products depends on how professional the market research is and whether the products intended for individual segments of the market are comprehensive. Also important is the way in which the products are presented, promoted and distributed. Rural people working independently are unable to achieve the required level of professionalism in this respect.

Local rural tourism associations are essential for the development of rural tourism. They have proven their worth by overcoming organizational problems in many countries. The importance of local and regional associations in managing the development of rural tourism is particularly due to the special character of services offered. The services are developed by groups of small businesses scattered geographically and located far from sales outlets.

The example of countries with a long tradition of rural tourism proves that organizations representing the interests of private rural operators offering accommodation play a leading role in the development of this form of vacationing. Among such organizations are the German Homestead Holiday association, the French National Federation of Rural Accommodation, Austria’s Hospitable Farm Circles, and Guest Rooms and Green Tourism Associations.

There are now over 50 associations of owners of rural accommodation operating in Poland. They help their members to develop attractive tourist products with appropriate quality and service standards. The associations also conduct market research and carry out joint promotional and marketing activities for their regions. The activities include publishing brochures and placing promotional materials on the internet and in the press. Another important task of the associations is to build a common information, booking, acquisition and product sales system and to represent farmers involved in rural tourism.

An overwhelming majority of the associations are members of the Polish Federation of Rural Tourism Hospitable Farms. The federation promotes uniform standards for tourist farms operating in rural Poland and adjusts the services it offers to European Union standards and the growing demands of tourists, which will enable them to compete on the international market.

Since 1997, the Polish federation has been a member of EuroGites—the European Federation of Farm and Village Tourism—which conducts research on the market and its customers, develops market strategy, maintains uniform criteria in evaluating the quality and standards of the accommodation, classifies it, and advertises and promotes it by placing advertisements in the catalogues of individual member countries and in a European brochure. EuroGites is also organizing a European chain for selling rural tourism products.

Thanks to Poland’s membership in EuroGites, the services of Polish tourist farms are presented in catalogues sent to 18 European countries.

How to reach the customer?

Regional associations issue brochures and leaflets presenting services offered by tourist farms. But these reach a relatively small number of prospective customers. One can use press advertisements, but this is expensive. Advertising on the internet—either on one’s own website or a portal dedicated to rural tourism—is more effective and cheaper. There are already several dozen such portals and the number of advertisements placed runs into the thousands.

Roadside signs are a well-known form of advertising for rural farms. In Western Europe, such signs are common on local roads and even dot freeways. In Poland this form of promotion is yet to be fully appreciated; the signage of many farms, especially the smaller ones, leaves much to be desired.

Tourism fairs are a popular way to advertise tourist farms. Participation in a fair enables farm owners to directly contact prospective customers. One example of such a fair is the Agrotravel International Fair of Rural and Agricultural Tourism in the southeastern city of Kielce. The fifth Agrotravel fair was held in April.

Every year the fair, which attracts nearly 150 Polish and foreign exhibitors and 20,000 visitors, provides a one-of-a-kind opportunity for a diverse group of leading international rural tourism operators to meet, to establish invaluable direct contacts with partners, and to share experience. This is achieved through presentations of exhibitors and related events such as conferences, training sessions, workshops and meetings.

Classification of rural tourism accommodation

As the number of tourist farms grows, so does the need to check the quality of services they offer.

Poland requires that hotels, motels, guest houses, campsites, holiday buildings and youth hostels be rated, but this requirement does not apply to tourist farms. Instead, they are judged under a voluntary rating system. The rural accommodation rating system is a way of maintaining quality as well as promoting and marketing tourist farms. The system was developed for the Polish Federation of Rural Tourism Hospitable Farms. It was preceded by research into the Polish experience, the best European experience and an evaluation of rural accommodation in Poland. European and Polish experts, as well as Polish rural accommodation providers, took part in the process of adopting criteria for the rating system.

Guest rooms, independent lodgings, lodgings for groups of tourists, and farm campsites are categorized voluntarily. The goal is to raise the quality of services rendered by rural tourism owners and recommend and promote their accommodation.

There are four grades in the system: standard, category 1 with one sun as a symbol, category 2 with two suns, and category 3 with three suns. The higher the category, the more suns the accommodation gets. The tourist farm operator receives the right to have his accommodation included in promotional materials issued by the federation.