The UN has recently highlighted the quickening global trend of urbanization, forecasting that this will accelerate further as developing nations become increasingly urban. This will put extra pressure on urban resources and communities, but will also exacerbate the growing divide between urban and rural areas, in terms of economic and social development. Rural regions are already experiencing fundamental challenges to their ways of life and social fabric, as traditional landbased occupations are in decline and younger and better educated rural residents migrate to cities for greater work, social and cultural opportunities.
Rural tourism offers a possible solution to the problems associated with lost economic opportunities and population decline that accompany the waning of agriculture. Many governments and regional authorities have embraced rural tourism as an opportunity to bring new money into rural regions, stimulating growth, providing employment opportunities and thus beginning to halt rural decline. Rural tourism offers opportunities in terms of accommodation and active countryside pursuits, the latter of which may be well-placed to capitalise on the move away from mass tourism products and a consumer desire for more niche and tailored offerings.
The last 25 years has seen a growth in active countryside tourism as increasingly urban populations seek relaxation and leisure in rural areas. Ranging from traditional countryside pursuits, such as walking, horseriding, and shooting, to the increasingly popular ‘adventure sports’ or ‘extreme sports’, such as snowboarding, windsurfing and kayaking, rural regions offer the required natural resources and quiet, picturesque settings necessary to enable tourists to experience rurality and, frequently, controlled risk and excitement as an alternative to the perceived pressures and constraints of urban life. This may offer rural regions new opportunities for sustainable development.
However, the possibilities of rural tourism to promote rural regeneration have been criticised for being over-stated and unrealistic. Rural tourism has frequently been found to under-deliver in terms of expected economic benefits and job creation, and rural communities may lack the skills and experience required to successfully attract and satisfy tourists. This may be exacerbated in relation to tourism products built around rurally-based sports and leisure pursuits, which often require specialist knowledge, training, and equipment, and familiarity with specific subcultures for marketing and promotion.
This international conference seeks to question the contribution active countryside tourism can and does make to rural regions.
in association with
The Regional Studies Association, Research Network on Tourism and Regional Development