Rural tourism is often a topic of fascination. The rustic charm of the slower lifestyles offers a much needed pause from the modern hustle and bustle.
We are getting busier as a people and find it difficult to unwind even on holidays. Trips to rural areas allow us to step outside this hamster wheel life and revel in the rhythmic pace of people living more in sync with nature.
What is rural tourism?
The World Tourism Organization defines rural tourism as, “a type of tourism activity in which the visitor’s experience is related to a wide range of products generally linked to nature-based activities, agriculture, rural lifestyle / culture, angling and sightseeing.”
- Located in rural areas.
- Functionally rural, built upon the rural world’s special features; small-scale enterprises, open space, contact with nature and the natural world, heritage, traditional societies, and traditional practices.
- Rural in scale – both in terms of building and settlements – and therefore, small scale.
- Traditional in character, growing slowly and organically, and connected with local families.
- Sustainable – in the sense that its development should help sustain the special rural character of an area, and in the sense that its development should be sustainability in its use of resources.
- Of many different kinds, representing the complex pattern of the rural environment, economy, and history.
How tourism benefits rural communities
Rural Tourism is more than just a fun adventure; it is a constructive cultural exchange that significantly benefits rural communities. Here are a few opportunities tourists bring along when they visit rural areas:
As tourists start to flow in, the need for sound infrastructure goes up. Even though rural tourism may not include a luxurious stay in a five star hotel with cozy amenities, every town needs basic amenities to serve their guests.
It is one thing to have a small electricity and water supply board functional enough for a couple hundred people, but when touring groups arrive, it is not enough. Soon, companies and/or government organizations start building water pumps, electric grids and sewage management facilities for a smoother public experience. The local communities living in the region also benefit from these facilities, especially during the off-seasons.
Education and employment opportunities
Every elementary sociology class around the world talks about the employment opportunities tourism brings, as it is one of the biggest sources of revenue for rural communities.
When tourists come in, it creates a huge demand for a wide range of services such as tour guides, event planning, hospitality management, etc. Since members of the rural communities are often not trained in these fields, it creates further opportunities for education and skill development.
Regions attracting a large number of tourists often see a dramatic increase in the number of small business groups and education. This helps them gain expertise in areas they would not have been exposed to otherwise.
Boost the local economy through foreign exchange
Tourists visiting rural areas pay for hotels, meals, tour guides, transport and handcrafts. This brings an influx of money into the regional economy helping communities raise their standard of living.
A lot of families in rural regions depend on this currency for major life expenses like buying homes, land or paying for medical bills. So, the more tourists fly in, the more their economy flourishes.
Incentive for preserving local traditions and handcrafts
Almost every tourist is interested in buying a souvenir and more often than not, they choose to purchase local handcrafts, artworks or special fabrics unique to the region.
Sometimes small businesses flourish so much that they become local brands. For example, a small shop that has been serving tea and snacks for decades, can become a must-see on the tourist’s itinerary because of its heritage and cultural relevance.
This offers rural communities an incentive to preserve local traditions. Where otherwise they would have to give up their cultural roots to spend time farming or working as a laborer, now they earn a living spreading word and offering experiences about their culture and traditions.
Since the majority of tourists visit these rural sites for their natural beauty, agricultural activities and environmentally harmonious lifestyles, special measures are put in place to preserve these areas.
No one would go forest bathing if there was no forest to bathe in!
So, there are rules against deforestation and resources can’t be used or shipped without written permission. This prevents exploitation of natural resources and promotes sustainable development.
For such preservation purposes, some areas are given separate funding for environmental conservation.
This significantly ups the quality of air, increases the annual number of trees planted and helps both tourists and local citizens live in a much more environment friendly manner.
Obstacles brought in by rural tourism
There are two sides to every coin and there are some major obstacles that rural tourism brings in too. For example, locals can find it difficult to access medical facilities because hospitals are packed with tourists during the holiday season.
Another major problem is littering. No matter how many rules are put in place, there is always someone who carelessly throws around their trash out of habit. This hurts the ecology and puts added strain on cleaning departments who may struggle to meet an increased demand.
But looking at the data at large, we see that most towns significantly benefit with an influx of tourism. With sufficient funding and efficient management, minor obstacles can be easily avoided.
If you are a tourist considering or planning a rural tour, take some time to familiarize with the local customs and culture. Try to follow the rules put in place, as a healthier environment will provide you with a healthier experience.
At the end of the day, remember: wherever you are traveling, whether the destination is rural or not, it is your responsibility to work in tandem with the locals and actively contribute your efforts in preserving the environment.
By Sakshi Udavant