What are the opportunities for rural tourism from Europe?
Rural tourism fits perfectly into the trend that European travellers seek authentic, unique experiences and local lifestyles. European rural travellers want to experience natural, unspoiled landscapes and authentic accommodation. Rural communities in developing countries often have great resources to offer such experiences. If you can offer these experiences, rural tourism can be an interesting market segment for you.
Contents of this page
- Product definition
- Which European markets offer opportunities for rural tourism?
- What trends offer opportunities on the European market for rural tourism?
- What requirements should your rural travel product comply with to be allowed on the European market?
- What competition do I face on the European market?
- Through what channels can you get your rural tourism products on the European market?
- What are the end-market prices for rural tourism products?
Rural tourism has many definitions. In this study, rural tourism refers to trips where the main motive is to enjoy:
- rural areas,
- rural communities,
- rural experiences.
Rural tourism aims to include and benefit rural communities, while preserving their environmental and cultural assets. It brings rural areas economic development by creating additional income and employment. Tourism development can also improve the social wellbeing in rural areas. For example by stimulating improvements in infrastructure, sanitary and electricity networks.
It is closely related to:
Rural travellers participate in activities, lifestyles and traditions of rural communities. This way they get a personalised experience of the countryside. They usually rent rural accommodation, which they can combine with (rural) activities and attractions. Preferably using the local social, cultural and natural resources.
Examples of rural accommodation, activities and attractions are:
Rural travellers are generally:
- highly educated,
- from higher socio-economic groups.
They can roughly be divided into four main segments:
Rural tourism is especially popular among Europe’s relatively large older age group of 50-70. They have more free time and money than other groups. Often their children have moved out, or they are entering retirement. They are usually experienced travellers that enjoy rural, quiet environments and look for new experiences. They want high value for money and are willing to pay more for authentic experiences. They generally seek higher standards of comfort than younger age groups.
- Focus on this segment, as this is the largest segment for rural tourism.
- Emphasise the unique, authentic features of your product in your marketing.
- Use both the internet and traditional media for promotion.
18-30 and 31-44 year olds are the second largest segment. They have often travelled in their youth and/or studied abroad. They are increasingly interested in exploring new destinations further away. There are two groups of younger travellers:
High income, little time
These are young professionals with high incomes but limited time to travel. They are mostly between 31-44 years old. They often travel in couples, although there is also a singles market in this age group. This group is looking for unusual ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences. They want to fit as much into their holiday as possible. Comfort is important to them.
Smaller daily budgets, extensive time
This group is mostly between 18-30 years old. Think of backpackers and gap year travellers. Their daily budgets are small but they travel over extended periods of time. Anywhere between a month and a year. These travellers choose cheaper accommodation. They want to engage with local communities and experience local activities and products. They may combine their travel with volunteer work on community or conservation projects.
- Develop a unique mix of accommodation and experiences, together with other local rural tourism providers.
- Emphasise the unique, ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences in your promotion.
- Offer different options for accommodation and activities that young rural travellers can combine. This way, they can create a personal travel package that meets their budget.
- Consider working with trusted volunteer organisations.
Family travel is a large, growing segment. It includes (grand)parents with (grand)children, or several generations travelling together. Rural tourism is popular among families. In Germany for example, families are one of the largest market segments for rural tourism. Families are becoming more quality and price conscious. They want good facilities and a good balance of safety and fun. They like rural holidays to combine fun and excitement with cultural enrichment and higher-end experiences.
- If you want to target families, offer family-friendly accommodation. For example:
- adjoining room options,
- a children’s program,
- a playground,
- a pool.
- Package your product with family-friendly, memorable experiences. Include fun, educational, unique and safe activities.
- Offer special discounts and all-inclusive prices for families. This appeals to more budget conscious families as well.
- The family tourism market is very broad. Work with specialised family travel tour operators.
- For more information on families with older children, see our study on explorative tourism for families with children aged 12-18.
People with special rural interests
Recently, interest in rural recreation as the main purpose of a visit increased significantly. Especially cycling and walking are popular. German and Dutch travellers are especially interested in this type of holidays. This segment also offers considerable opportunities for rural tourism providers.
Product requirements are aspects of the rural tourism product that European rural travellers find especially important. They come with tips on how tourism providers in developing countries can meet these requirements.
Rural travellers are interested in authentic, rural experiences. They like entertaining as well as educational places and activities. These should reflect the unique characters of the area, its rural qualities and its heritage.
- Use local experiences and produce in your product offering. For example:
- horse riding tours along rural paths,
- visits to farms or rural production/processing facilities,
- local handicrafts workshops,
- organise (visits to) rural markets or events.
- Include traditional local food.
- Include farmer organisations, rural producer organisations or cooperatives in your product development.
Natural, unspoiled landscapes
The main reason for a rural holiday is to enjoy the quality of natural, unspoiled landscapes. This is often more important than the level of facilities.
- Maintain the quality of your local environment. This is essential to the appeal of your destination as well as for sustainability.
- Give tourists information on how to behave responsibly towards the local environment and culture. For inspiration, see the Green Hotel Attributes at Environmentally Friendly Hotels.
- Incorporate sustainable and environmentally friendly practices, like:
- water saving taps and showers,
- working with local products,
- solar cookers,
- using solar power.
- For more information, see wikiHow’s How to Create a Green Hotel and Global Stewards’ tips for green accommodation.
Health and safety measures
Health and safety is important to European rural travellers. They often inquire about the safety of their destination. Vehicles and accommodation also have to be safe. Guides should have good local knowledge. They must know which places are safe to visit and which are not.
- Pay attention to safety measures.
- Tour operators should for example regularly check vehicles and equipment. Hire experienced guides that know the area.
- Accommodation establishments should have safety measures in place. These include smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, emergency exits, first aid kits and 24-hour medical assistance.
Safety is important to European travellers, especially because some developing countries are politically unstable. Most commercial tour operators don’t offer holidays to countries that their Ministry of Foreign Affairs has declared unsafe. This has led to a drop in tourism arrivals to destinations such as Mali, Egypt and Venezuela.
- Keep (potential) customers updated on changes in the safety situation in your area, for example through your website and through your staff.
- Share safety experiences from customers on your website. Let them write about how safe they felt, because people value the experience of other travellers.
- If your region is ‘unsafe’, commercial tour operators will most likely not go there. In this case, focus on volunteer organisations and individual travellers. Check your country’s current safety status at the website of your target countries’ Ministries of Foreign Affairs, like those of the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
European travellers are price conscious. However, rural long haul travellers are generally from higher socio-economic groups. They are willing to pay some more if they get a quality experience. Quality is generally more important to them than price. In this context, quality includes for example:
- authentic experiences,
- good organisation,
- hospitable staff,
- experienced guides,
- Focus on offering high quality services by:
- investing in skills training,
- hiring experienced guides,
- offering additional services,
- working with reliable partners.
- Include little extras, like some local delicacies in your guests’ bedrooms. Or give them a small local handicraft gift at the end of a tour.
- Quality management is an important tool to understand and meet travellers’ needs and requirements. Develop a quality management system to check your customers’ expectations and satisfaction levels. To improve the quality of your tourism offering, use for example:
- visitor surveys,
- feedback from employees, tour operators and journalists,
- a suggestion book or a guestbook.
Rural travellers are looking for a wide variety of accommodation types. From campsites to rural hotels, within a broad price range. They like unique, small-scale accommodation run by local people. Preferably reflecting the authentic rural heritage of the area. However, they are becoming more demanding in terms of facilities and comfort. Freedom and flexibility are also important, especially for families.
- Rural areas should offer a wide range of accommodation types, at various prices.
- Deliver quality in each accommodation type and price range.
- Emphasise the uniqueness and authenticity of rural accommodation establishments. Use good quality photos and videos in your marketing.
Recreational and soft adventure activities
Rural travellers increasingly seek recreational activities such as walking and cycling. Soft adventure activities are also becoming popular. Sleeping in a safari tent for example, is an authentic experience for many families with children.
- Offer recreational and soft adventure activities. For example walking or cycling heritage trails and themed routes. Also consider horse riding or canoeing trails and routes. For more information, see our studies about trekking tourism and cycling tourism.
- Provide trails and routes of different lengths and difficulty. This way you meet the needs of a wide range of rural travellers.
- Improve local sports and leisure facilities for joint use by tourists and locals.
In rural areas, accessibility can be a challenge. There is often a lack of good roads and public transport. Unclear and inadequate signs are a common complaint from travellers to rural areas. You need clear signposting at the start of a trail or route. As well as regular road signs, including a plan for checking and maintenance.
- Invest in road networks and the accessibility of your destination by public transport. For example by adding long distance bus services, especially in the tourist season.
- Make sure that:
- the transport is safe and comfortable,
- the routes are well planned,
- timetables are being kept.
- Involve local authorities in the process of developing accessible trails and better signposting. Maintain a logical and consistent signposting system for visitors throughout the whole area.
- Local facilities must meet the needs of tourists as well as local people. Provide information on the nearest location of important facilities, such as:
- a supermarket,
- a bank,
- a bus stop,
- a police station,
- a doctor and/or hospital.
For statistics on European source markets, see What is the demand for tourism services in developing countries?.
Popular rural tourism destinations
According to industry experts, popular rural tourism destinations include:
Interaction with locals
European travellers increasingly include elements from the local culture in their holidays. About 27% of European tourists say cultural experiences are their main reason for going on holiday (Eurobarometer 2015). They are looking for experiences, rather than going sightseeing. During these experiences, they like to interact with local people. Many Developing Countries have interesting rural areas with their own cultures and traditions. This offers opportunities for rural tourism providers.
- Include cultural elements and interaction with locals in your rural tourism experiences. For example, a visit to a local community or cultural heritage site. Or more actively, a local craft workshop or helping with the harvest.
Agritourism or farm stays
Agritourism and/or farm stays are increasingly popular. This is a good way for European travellers to experience and participate in local culture. They often combine their agritourism or farm stays with volunteering.
- If the terms ‘agritourism’ and/or ‘farm stay’ apply to your business: use them in your marketing message. European travellers search for holidays with these words more than ‘rural tourism’.
- Consider offering volunteering work at your rural tourism destination
Increasing use of online research
European travellers increasingly research and plan their trip online. To gather information and share experiences they use:
- peer review sites, like Tripadvisor and Holidays Uncovered,
- travel forums, like Responsible Travel,
- social media, like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Personal recommendations from family and friends are also important.
- Maintain a strong internet presence and online marketing strategy. Also include social media. Photos and videos help travellers explore your destination and product from home. They can bring your story alive.
- Use current customers as ambassadors for your company and area. Encourage them to share their experiences, photos and videos on social media. They can also write blogs and reviews.
- Also use social media for market research, product development and reputation management.
For more information, see Which trends offer opportunities on the European tourism market?.
4 . What requirements should your rural travel product comply with to be allowed on the European market?
For information on requirements, see What requirements should my services comply with to attract European tourists?.
There are some voluntary safety standards for where rural tourism meets adventure tourism.
Voluntary adventure tourism safety standards
For more adventurous rural experiences, three ISO standards support safe adventure practices: 21101, 21102 and 21103. Additionally, some countries have their own voluntary standards. For instance, BS 8848 in the United Kingdom.
- Study the ISO standards on adventure tourism. Use them to enhance your safety performance.
- Check for possible voluntary standards in your target markets.
Competition in the rural tourism market does not differ from the tourism market in general. For more information, see What competition do you face on the European outbound tourism market?.
For an overview of the trade structure for tourism, see Through what channels can you attract European tourists?.
Selecting smaller specialised tour operators
European tour operators specialised in rural, nature, eco or Community-Based tourism offer the best opportunities, along with tour operators specialised in your destination. You can identify interesting tour operators via trade associations, events and databases.
Some examples are:
- Agriterra - supports farmer organisations in Developing Countries, for instance in developing rural tourism.
- ECTAA - national associations of travel agents and tour operators per European country.
- European Alliance for Responsible Tourism and Hospitality (EARTH) - European network of member and partner organisations in responsible tourism.
- ITB - annual tourism trade event, March, Berlin.
- The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) - global network of ecotourism professionals and travellers. Organises the Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference. You can search for members.
- Top Resa - annual tourism trade event, September, Paris.
- Tourism Review - tourism portal with international tour operator directory.
- World Travel Market - annual tourism trade event, November, London.
Generating direct sales
European rural travellers increasingly book their holidays directly with service providers at the destination. To increase your chances of direct sales you can promote your product on rural tourism websites/portals. For example All Rural and Responsible Travel. Also consider developing your own national or regional rural tourism portal. Some examples are:
- Rural Tourism Network Kenya
- BALKANIA Balkan Alternative Tourism
- Village Tourism Promotion Forum Nepal
Travellers have many destinations and types of holidays to choose from. This makes tourism a relatively price sensitive and competitive industry. The price of a long-haul trip consists of three dimensions:
- The exchange rate between the currencies of the country of origin and the destination country.
- The costs of transport to and from the destination country.
- The price of goods and services the traveller consumes in the destination country.
European tour operators are not open about the purchasing prices of their tourism products. According to industry experts, their margins vary between 10-25%. Prices of holiday packages vary widely, as they depend on many factors such as:
- modes of transport
- period of travel
- number of travellers
- length of stay
- type of accommodation
- activities included
- Check which countries have cheap (direct) flights to your destination, for instance at Skyscanner. This gives you a competitive advantage in those countries.
- You can compare prices for rural travel products via portals like Travel Rural.
- Tourism Boost has some useful online tools for pricing tours and accommodation. These help you determine the break-even point and ideal retail price of your tourism product.
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