Rural Tourism: Types, Benefits, Challenges, Growth

  • Post last modified:28 August 2021
  • Reading time:29 mins read
  • Post category:Tourism

What is Rural Tourism?

Rural tourism can be defined as the country experience which encompasses a wide range of attractions and activities that take place in agricultural or non-urban areas.

Its essential characteristics include wide-open spaces, low levels of tourism development, and opportunities for visitors to directly experience agricultural and/or natural environments.

Consequently, rural tourism in its purest form should be:

  • Located in rural areas.
  • Functionally rural – built upon the rural world‘s special features of small-scale enterprise, open space, contact with nature and the natural world, heritage, traditional societies and traditional practices.

  • Rural in scale – both in terms of buildings and settlements and, therefore, usually small-scale.

  • Traditional in character, growing slowly and organically, and connected with local families. It will often be very largely controlled locally and developed for the long term good of the area.

Any form of tourism that showcases the rural life, art, culture, and heritage at rural locations, thereby benefiting the local community economically and socially as well as enabling interaction between the tourists and the locals for a more enriching tourism experience can be termed as rural tourism.

Rural tourism is essentially an activity that takes place in the countryside. It is multifaceted and may entail farm agricultural tourism, cultural tourism, nature tourism, adventure tourism, and eco-tourism.

As against conventional tourism, rural tourism has certain typical characteristics like; it is experience-oriented, the locations are sparsely populated, it is predominantly in the natural environment, it meshes with seasonality and local events, and is based on preservation of culture, heritage, and traditions.

Types of Rural Tourism

Tourism is synthesized from mass and alternative tourism. Mass tourism is characterized by large numbers of people seeking cultural holidays in popular resort destinations.

The diversity of attractions included within rural tourism includes:

  1. Heritage Tourism
  2. Ecotourism
  3. Agritourism

Heritage Tourism

Heritage tourism refers to leisure travel that has as its primary purpose the experiencing of places and activities that represent the past.


A second major type of rural tourism activity is nature-based tourism/ecotourism (sometimes called recreation-based tourism), which refers to the process of visiting natural areas for the purpose of enjoying the scenery, including plant and animal wildlife.

Nature-based tourism may be either passive, in which observers tend to be strictly observers of nature, or active (increasingly popular in recent years), where participants take part in outdoor recreation or adventure travel activities.


A third major form of tourism is agri-tourism, which refers to, the act of visiting a working farm or any agricultural, horticultural, or agribusiness operation for the purpose of enjoyment, education, or active involvement in the activities of the farm or operation14.

It includes taking part in a broad range of farm-based activities, including farmers ‘markets, petting farms, roadside stands, and pick-your-own operations; engaging in overnight farm or ranch stays and other farm visits; and visiting agriculture-related festivals, museums, and other such attractions.

Rural Tourism Attractions

These forces have been identified by many authors and can be summarized as:

  1. Tourism generating regions for rural tourism are highly developed and urbanized the stresses of urban living and the remoteness from the natural environment has created a desire for escape from the monoculture of city living.

    Rural locations offer an idealized release from stress and the opportunity to re-engage with a simpler, quieter way of life that offers rest and relaxation.

  2. Demand fuelled by media, over-familiarity and congestion with traditional tourist resorts and increased interest in alternative attractions – with its voracious appetite for content and the resultant over-exposure of many traditional tourist destinations, the media have sought out new and interesting tourism experiences for their lifestyle productions.

  3. Increasing environmental awareness and interest in the relationship between humans and the environment. Green issues have raised the attractiveness of rural experiences as ecologically sustainable tourism.

  4. Transport, communications, and the removal of political and economic barriers to travel have facilitated accessibility of rural areas.

  5. Increasing numbers of Free Independent Travelers and world-wide long-haul travel – many more travelers are FIT than in the past due to the increased capacity, especially in long-haul transport modes.

    When combined with increasing discretionary incomes, greater awareness of the range of experiences on offer, and greater mobility through private transport, the accessibility and attractiveness of rural destinations has been dramatically improved.

  6. A move toward short-break holidays – income and leisure time have changed so that shorter breaks with greater choice of leisure activities are sought. Changing work patterns have increased the popularity of shorter breaks that minimize the absence from work and the effect of absences on work flow and involvement.

  7. Better-educated travelers have increased interest in outdoor recreation, eco-tourism and special interest tourism – individualism drives a need for unique experiences and rural tourism, because of its fragmented nature and diversity of offerings, can satisfy this need.

  8. An increased interest in heritage can be satisfied through rural tourism as rural areas are often the repositories of remnant heritage.

  9. Rural areas are perceived as healthier, offering fresher air, cleaner water and the opportunity for outdoor recreation. Rural areas offer fresh, and sometimes, specialty foods.

  10. An increasing desire for authentic experiences including interaction with local people Rural tourism is REAL (Rewarding, Enriches the spirit, provides Adventure and Learning); authenticity is believed to be found in genuine country experiences and lifestyles.

Benefits of Rural Tourism

Potentially rural tourism promises some of the following benefits to rural development:

  1. Job Retention
  2. Job Creation
  3. New Business Opportunities
  4. Opportunities for Youth
  5. Community Diversification
  6. Preservation of Rural Culture and Heritage
  7. Increase Arts and Crafts Sales
  8. Landscape Conservation
  9. Environmental Improvements
  10. The Historic Built Environment

Job Retention

Rural tourism cash flows can assist job retention in services such as retailing, transport, hospitality, and medical care. It can also provide additional income for farmers, and, in some cases, for foresters and fishermen.

Job retention is not as politically glamorous as job creation, but, by helping the viability of small communities, it is critical to the survival of marginal areas. Studies of rural Austria, Sweden, and Ireland have documented the role of tourism in job retention.

Job Creation

Job creation typically occurs in the hotel and catering trades, but can also take place in transport, retailing, and information heritage interpretation.

New Business Opportunities

Tourism generates new opportunities for industry18. Even those rural businesses not directly involved in tourism can benefit from tourist activity through developing close relationships with tourist facilities where local foods can be used as part of the tourism offering in a locality.

Rural tourism facilitates the expansion of complementary businesses such as service stations and new businesses are created to cater to tourist needs for hospitality services, recreational activities, and arts crafts.

Opportunities for Youth

The tourism industry is often promoted as an exciting and growing industry suited to the energies and enthusiasm of young people. Career options are enhanced with the opportunities for training and direct involvement in running tourism businesses, especially those within small communities.

Community Diversification

Community diversification is an important activity in many uplands and climatically marginal regions. Forest regions have suffered serious socio-economic problems in recent years, partly because of the mechanization of tree felling and processing, and partly because of falling prices following reduced timber demand.

Rural tourism can assist forestry by diversifying income sources for forest communities if the special qualities of the forest environment for recreational use are realized and developed.

Preservation of Rural Culture and Heritage

In rural tourism, the sense of place‘ is a fundamental element in both the tourists‘ and host community‘s feelings of what makes the area attractive to visit and live in. This sense of place is maintained partly through rural museums which play a vital role in preserving heritage.

Increase Arts and Crafts Sales

Arts and crafts have a special place in the cultural heritage of regions and nations. Many commentators have noted that tourism can assist arts and crafts, both by recognizing their importance and by purchasing craft products.

Income flows from these activities are well documented. Support between the arts and tourism can be a two-way process. Many communities now use arts and crafts festivals as a marketing mechanism to encourage visitors to come to their areas.

Landscape Conservation

Landscape conservation has become an increasingly important form of heritage protection. The landscape is of crucial importance to rural tourism but, equally, visitor use is vital to the landscape conservation industry.

Visitor use brings political benefits, can bring economic gains, and can provide jobs in maintaining and repairing traditional landscapes worn by recreational activities.

Environmental Improvements

Environmental improvements such as village paving and traffic regulation schemes, sewage and litter disposal can be assisted by tourism revenues and political pressures from tourism authorities.

This helps develop pride of place, is important in retaining the existing population and businesses, and in attracting new enterprises and families.

The Historic Built Environment

The historic built environment can benefit from rural tourism in two ways. Many historic properties now charge for admission in order to maintain their fabrics and surrounding gardens and parklands. Secondly, there are important buildings from the past which have become redundant.

Churches have lost their congregations, castles have lost their wars, farm buildings have become too small for modern equipment, railway stations have lost their trains, and canal warehouses no longer have barge traffic.

Challenges of Rural Tourism

While many benefits can flow from rural tourism development, there can be problems. All economic structural re-alignments can disrupt sensitive environments. And, as the records of numerous rural aid agencies will testify, rural communities can be extremely resistant to new ideas.

The problems in developing and managing rural tourism are listed below: they lead on to Section IV which asks: can rural tourism pay? Will it make a sufficiently large contribution to alleviating rural problems? And can it be managed?

These are challenges of rural tourism:

  1. The Environmental Threat
  2. The Sociocultural Threat
  3. The Incoming Entrepreneur
  4. Traffic Congestion

The Environmental Threat

Rural tourism operates within sensitive natural environments. Some of the most attractive tourism destinations have the most sensitive environments. These include sea and lake shorelines, wetlands, high mountain areas, and polar areas.

Many studies have highlighted the threats which tourism has already brought to the environment.

Intensive skiing has destroyed vegetation and encouraged land-slips; climbing erodes rock faces, and, with modern equipment, destroys their natural condition; walking and riding wears out paths in heavily used areas; noise and litter drive out and injure wild creatures; existing farming practices are upset by fire, dogs, and competition for labor.

The peace, quiet and authentic nature of the countryside can be seriously compromised. All these issues can be tackled to some extent by the skilled management of the countryside; management of the order required is as yet rarely available (see later in this review).

The Sociocultural Threat

Just as the influx of large numbers of visitors can disrupt the natural world, so also can visitors impinge upon the small scale, static, and the well-ordered socio-cultural world of the rural community. Earnings patterns change, success/failure relationships are altered, power structures are challenged.

More fundamentally, sociologists have long recognized that the impact of “advanced” cultures on “traditional” cultures almost always brings change to the traditional culture and not in the other direction.

This process has been examined in detail in the Mediterranean and in the Alpine lands. But the process is most marked where special ethnic or linguistic groups are involved.

The Incoming Entrepreneur

For reasons which will be discussed later, many local farmers and businesses do not decide to enter the tourism market when opportunities present themselves. Surveys show that, in extreme cases, up to 80 percent of tourism-related businesses in small towns and villages are owned, managed, or controlled by incoming or non-local entrepreneurs.

In some respects, incomers can provide a valuable transfusion of contacts, capital, and skill. But they can also present problems. They may be insensitive to local traditions, cultures, working practices, and architectural styles.

They may use non-local suppliers for goods and services. They may repatriate their profits and capital gains out of the area. They have little loyalty to their new base of operations and often leave when trading conditions deteriorate.

Less tangibly, but equally important, they set up tensions between locals and incomers, and do little to change the dependency culture common to many rural places.

Traffic Congestion

Usually road traffic, but in some cases, sea and air traffic — can be a major problem if an area is successful in attracting tourists.

Narrow roads can easily be choked by traffic both inside and outside settlements, parking becomes an issue, non-tourism businesses can suffer and, in extreme cases, emergency services cannot make urgent calls.

The attractiveness of the area as a destination can decline, taking it down-market. There can be side effects on landscape and nature conservation. Traffic management techniques and better use of public transport can help, but the funds and skills necessary are not usually available.

Growth in Rural Tourism

14 key factors can be isolated which have been responsible for rural tourism growth in the past and which will continue that growth into the future:

  1. Increasing Levels of Education
  2. A Growing Interest in Heritage
  3. Increases in Leisure Time
  4. Health Consciousness
  5. Better Outdoor Clothing
  6. Growing Interest
  7. Green Issues
  8. Authenticity
  9. Peace and Tranquility
  10. Aging
  11. Real Travel
  12. Individualism
  13. The Rural Agencies

Increasing Levels of Education

The post-war period has seen a universal increase in free or assisted education available to the populations of the developed world.

This has included long periods of school-based education, more higher education, the spread of adult and continuing education, and the growth of non-formalized education, via radio, television, and other media.

Research shows that increasing levels of education correlate with increased interest in outdoor recreation, eco-tourism, and special interest holidays.

A Growing Interest in Heritage

Over the last 20 years, there has been a boom in the level of interest in heritage both man-made and natural. This reflects many factors: a fear of the future, fear of rootlessness, better education, time to explore, and, not least, better heritage presentation.

Freeman Tilden’s pioneering book “Interpreting Our Heritage”, first published in 1957 in the United States helped revolutionizes and inspire the heritage industry.

Rural areas are especially well suited to heritage interpretation, possessing many historic landscapes, artifacts, and linkages, and fine settings for heritage sites. With the exception of the urban zoo (an institution now in decline), rural areas have a monopoly on the natural heritage market.

Increases in Leisure Time

Increases in leisure time, coupled with higher levels of disposable income, are important factors in developing tourism generally. One specific aspect of this equation is important for rural tourism. This is the growth of the short break and the second or third-holiday market.

The European Community’s 1985 Survey of Europeans on Holiday indicated that of those taking holidays, over one-third now take two or more holiday trips involving overnight stays away from home each year.

This is important because while a “traditional” resort-based holiday may still account for main holidays, rural special interest holidays can be tried for the second, often shorter, a holiday without too much risk.

Health Consciousness

Health consciousness has grown and is growing steadily and in the concept of healthy living, active recreation plays an important part.

Exercise and sport play central roles in healthy living strategies. Rural areas are well placed to provide outdoor recreation of all kinds from walking to cycling, orienteering, skiing, and climbing.

The countryside is assumed to be healthy, with overtones of fresh air and bucolic well-being. In contrast, resort holidays based on the sun/sea/sand formula have been found to offer serious health risks.

Medical researchers in Australasia, America, and Scandinavia have pinpointed sunbathing as being responsible for higher levels of skin disease, ranging from premature wrinkling to deadly skin cancers. While this problem is still only fully appreciated in the southern hemisphere, it seems very likely that knowledge of the risks posed by sun-belt holidays will grow.

Better Outdoor Clothing

Better outdoor clothing has helped rural holidays in both a practical and a fashion sense. High-performance fabrics enable wearers to stay warm and dry in adverse weather, allowing tourists to enjoy wet weather and out-of-season conditions.

Contemporary outdoor clothing is now extremely fashionable and available in a wide range of colors and styles. Outdoor recreation equipment has also been much improved and many items, such as the mountain bike, the windsurfer, and the 4-wheel drive utility vehicle, have achieved cult fashion status.

Growing Interest

A growing interest in specialty food is widely evident, be it wild rice from North America, non-pasteurized cheeses from France, cholesterol-free, non-farmed salmon and deer from Scandinavia, or organic produce from the Alps.

Considerable space in the press is devoted to specialty foods and food preparation. Rural holidays have been able to capitalize on this trend because the countryside is the source of quality non-processed foods.

Green Issues

Green issues have risen high on most political agendas over the last ten years. This interest has been seized upon by the marketers of many consumer products, including holiday tour operators. Rural holidays, although not necessarily environmentally friendly, can capitalize on the wholesomeness which the countryside is felt to exude.


Authenticity is a quality that is increasingly prized. In a world of video and television entertainment, factory-produced goods, and suburban anonymity, the authenticity of the countryside, and the personal touch provided by small-scale communities and accommodation units are extremely valuable.

An English Tourist Board survey of motives for taking rural holidays, conducted in 1987, placed this point second only to the scenery as a reason for staying in the countryside.

Peace and Tranquility

Peace and tranquility rank high amongst the requirements of many tourists. This is hardly surprising given the high levels of mental stress experienced by many workers.

A 1986 survey of the German holiday market found that “to switch off, relax” was the number one aim of those taking holidays: this aim was given by 66 percent of respondents. 47 percent wished to experience nature, and 32 percent sought cleaner air and an unpolluted environment.


Aging but active populations are becoming the norm across the OECD countries. Early retirement is now commonplace, as are active 70-year-olds. In 1971 83 percent of British males aged 60-64 were still working full-time jobs.

By 1995 it is expected that only 55 percent of men in that age group will remain in full-time work. Effective occupational pensions allow this active but aging population to travel widely: many choose rural holidays for health reasons and to discover new non-urban experiences.

Real Travel

REAL travel (rewarding, enriching, adventuresome, and a learning experience) has been noted by many commentators as being a growth area. The many facets of rural tourism are specially placed to fulfill the needs of this growth market.


Individualism is also a growth market, rejecting the mass activities of the past. The growth of individualism has been noted and acted upon by the car manufacturers, clothing manufacturers, and by many other purveyors of consumer goods.

Rural tourism, because of the fragmented and small scale nature of the enterprises involved, is especially capable of exploiting this market trend, although high-quality selling and hospitality skills are needed.

The Rural Agencies

The rural agencies, numerous in most countries, have been quick to express an interest in rural tourism and to offer aid and advice.

These agencies include those connected with agriculture, with nature conservation, with community welfare, with the arts and crafts, with National Parks, with economic development, transport the list is almost endless.

Although the agencies rarely coordinate their activities and are rarely organizations with any experience of tourism, they have assisted many collective projects and individual enterprises.

Imporatnce (Significance) of Rural Tourism

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