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The drafting of this report on South-South cooperation (SSC) trends and local innovative solutions in rural tourism began within the South-South and Triangular Cooperation for Agricultural Development and Enhanced Food Security (SSTC-ADFS) partnership initiative in order to stimulate thematic research and to facilitate information exchange and cooperation between the countries of the SSTC-ADFS partnership initiative2 and beyond. In the framework of this desk study, the common terminology and the broader definition of rural tourism have been used, with an outlook on the actual state-of-art on rural tourism. The study highlights the growing recognition of its importance for rural poverty alleviation, its trends and past and ongoing initiatives, which have contributed to the development of the sector and the key centres of excellence in the countries.

The aim of this report is to support the knowledge exchange corridor on rural tourism that was established within the SSTC-ADFS partnership initiative by gradually putting into practice, scaling up and replicating successful solutions for rural poverty alleviation. The nine countries of the SSTC-ADFS partnership initiative represent the diverse state, importance, directions and prospects of conventional tourism and rural tourism. The term ‘rural tourism’ does not have a codified and globally used definition, however, but is used when rural culture is the key element of the tourism product. Normally, it refers to when tourists are given a personalized experience of the physical and social environment of the countryside, participating to some degree in the traditions and lifestyles of local people (WTO, 2004, 2003).

In addition to a number of indirect impacts described in this report, rural tourism efficiently creates rural jobs (WBG, 2017), which, according to World Bank research (Azevedo et al., 2013), is the surest path out of poverty. Through job creation in remote rural areas, tourism is also one of the very few services capable of reducing migration to urban areas (WTO, 2013). In addition, rural tourism contributes to rural poverty alleviation through indirect, cross-sectoral job creation and/or income generation through its complex value chain. One example is the transportation sector, which provides the means by which visitors reach their destination, and then consume local commodities and use services such as accommodation, restaurants and guided tours (WTO, 2015). Special attention will be given here to female entrepreneurship, since women clearly have a strong presence in the hotel and restaurant sector, for example, 31 per cent in Africa (against 21 per cent in other sectors) and 30 per cent in Asia (against 17 per cent in other sectors) (ILO, 2013). Since rural tourism is a relatively young offshoot within the global tourism industry and thus not yet thoroughly researched, its trends are first analysed based on an overview of conventional tourism in order to visualize the countries on the tourism map of the world and to use these data for benchmarking future research on rural tourism. The general finding was that the tourism industry contributes significantly, over 10 per cent, to the national economy in Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey, but under 5 per cent in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, which is also reflected in the number of people employed in the sector.

Clearly, the countries with historical experience in hosting a high number of visitors every year have more to share with others in terms of successful policies and practices. Nevertheless, from the perspective of rural tourism, all countries have successful experiences to share, be it in nature preservation, archeological heritage preservation, or in the social organization of rural people who revitalize the countryside. After providing an overview of tourism and rural tourism in the countries, the study reflects on current initiatives in the area supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) and other international partners and development agencies (SSTC-ADFS, 2015). The scarcity of information on rural tourism initiatives further justifies the need for a contribution to the knowledge base of the sector’s development, which is an aim of this report. It should be also noted that, due to the interdisciplinary nature of rural tourism, rural development support programmes of the above organizations have been efficiently used. An overview of the key centres of excellence enables readers to assess the preparedness of a country of interest to receive specific types of foreign investments in the tourism sector, especially regarding hotels and catering. It also provides a starting point for potential cooperative partners and other countries that wish to replicate the success, expertise and practical successful solutions in the rural tourism scene and to establish cooperative relations with specific countries. In addition to private investments, international donors (e.g. funds for social, economic development or environmental protection) might also approach the centres of excellence as a starting point of development projects.

Finally, five selected, replicable best practices in terms of impact and cost-efficiency of pro-poor rural tourism development initiatives are detailed to enable solution seekers to draw ideas for adoption and replication of proven practices. Conclusions and recommendations reflect the diverse and vulnerable nature of rural community programmes. For successful business planning, it is fundamental to have committed people on the field who will ensure the sustainability of the projects. This leads to the next top recommendation, which is confirmed in all five cases: it is better to galvanize bottom-up enthusiasm and build on the actual realities of everyday life experience of the rural poor rather than to try to introduce specific models or determine the content of initiatives without their involvement. This latter would result in low success and almost never in a sustainable process, whereas convincing people to become proactive leads to processes that will continue in time, even once external assistance or funds are no longer provided.

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