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Rural Tourism

Fostering Responsible Travel Outside Urban Areas

“With farm incomes dwindling in many ‘developed’ but also ‘developing’ countries, and people migrating to cities or abroad, rural tourism is often seen by planners as a magic wand to stop rural decay,” says Antonis Petropoulos, director of the ECOCLUB web site, www.ecoclub.com.

Rural tourism is particularly popular and well-developed in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Other countries, struggling to define ecotourism, are not sure how to handle this “new” terminology.

One of the leaders in rural tourism is one of the pioneers of ecotourism: Costa Rica. The Community-Based Rural Tourism Association (ACTUAR), www.actuarcostarica.com, is composed of more than 20 community-based rural tourism enterprises in Costa Rica. The group focuses on community development and reinvests profits among its members.

Earlier this year the web site I founded, Planeta.com, hosted our 15th online event, the Rural Tourism Conference, at www.planeta.com/ecotravel/tour/rural.html. The 2-week online dialogue, which reviewed current work around the globe, was launched in Oaxaca, Mexico with the 2005 Rural Tourism Fair.

The Example of Mexico

Highlighting rural tourism makes sense in Oaxaca, with its rich tapestry of cultural tradition and craft production. The only thing missing for travelers is directions to the villages to purchase hand-made work or sample local cuisine.

Rodrigo Esponda, deputy director for the Mexican Tourism Board’s New York office, pointed to three places in Mexico to visit for rural tourism: El Chico National Park, the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, and Oaxaca’s Sierra Norte.

Artisans Can Benefit

Buying crafts from locals artisans assists local economic development and often conservation and heritage initiatives. There has been impressive academic work by Robert Healy at Duke University. Healy has researched how residents of tourism destinations—particularly those in rural locations—can obtain greater financial benefit from tourist visitation.