TRAILS AND TOURISM: THE MISSING LINK
Issues in Partnering with the Tourism Industry: A European Perspective
By Bernard Lane, Rural Tourism Unit, University of Bristol, UK and Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 1999
The growth of the tourism industry has been one of the success stories of the post war world. International arrivals across the world have grown over 20 fold in the last fifty years. Globally, tourism now provides 10% of world employment, 12% of GDP, and is predicted to provide up to 100 million new jobs by 2010. Within that growth picture tourism is changing rapidly. There is an expansion in special interest tourism, in city based cultural tourism, in activity holidays and in rural tourism. The purpose built traditional resort is now paralleled by the concept of the world as a whole as a living resort.
The pattern of holidays is changing, with more holidays being taken, more out of main season holidays and more short breaks. The environmental impacts of tourism are increasingly recognised, and the concept of sustainable tourism (sometimes called ecotourism in the US) has been developed. Part of sustainable tourism's philosophy is to use tourism as a tool for regional and rural development, and for the conservation of human and natural heritage. It also proposes to cut the fuel burn involved in the tourism transaction by encouraging walking, cycling, rail and other fuel sparing holiday modes.
In Europe, tourism is increasingly seen as a possible partner for trail development and maintenance activities. Trails can benefit from financial and political support from tourism and local / regional development agencies. Tourism benefits from additional product, from new market opportunities and from image building. The economic benefits of well managed trails are now well documented: for the UK see Cope's 1998 paper in Journal of Sustainable Tourism: for the US see the 1998 publication by Roger Moore for the US Dept. of the Interior. This paper looks at how trail development has progressed in Europe, and why, from the 1980s onwards, trails and tourism development have begun to come together. It examines the key elements necessary for a successful relationship, and looks at issues for the future.
Trail Development: The 2 stages.
This period was characterised by the planning and realisation by pressure groups and state agencies of a series of long distance trails - typically in excess of 60 miles - a length which requires more than a long weekend's walking. There are now 12 National Trails in Britain, with a total length of 2,000 miles administered by the Countryside Agency, a fusion of the conservation body, the Countryside Commission, and the Rural Development Commission: the new Agency began work on 1st April 1999. Many other European countries have similar systems.
These trails were never designed as tourist routes. They were essentially utopian creations designed to allow access across the countryside as a grand political gesture. They are challenge routes, used by a walking elite, typically middle aged professional men. They are not effectively marketed, few luggage transfer facilities are available, packaging of trail holidays does not go on. There is no agency responsible for increasing their use to boost tourism revenues to the areas they traverse. And the routes were not designed to be interesting, or easy to use. Long distance usage is small: they are symbols of freedom and hope rather than living usership reality. They are almost exclusively walking routes.
This period has seen a boom in trail development, and in the whole concept of the trail. Growing demand for outdoor recreation and rural tourism has coincided with a period where European Union, national, regional and local public sector agencies have become active in creating new trails. The motives of those agencies have been many but include job creation, rural diversification, urban regeneration, and tourism development and management. Many of the new trails are short distance trails, and some of them are effective in tourism terms. But new types of long distance trails are also being created. Some of these long distance trails have captured the market's mood and its dreams and have become successful tourism products. Examples include Austria's Danube Trail, Britain's coast to coast C2C Trail, and Spain's revived Santiago de Compostela Pilgrimage Trail. In Britain, a national charity, Sustrans, is developing an 8,000 miles national cycle trail. Its free market, company sponsored counterpart , the National Byway, is developing a 3,000 mile route.
Trails have become multi-user and multi-purpose concepts - covering a range of purposes, not just "simple" recreation. And thebasic concept of a simple linear trail has changed. The 1980s saw the growing popularity of the circular trail, allowing users to return to their car or public transport. That concept was taken further by Tarka Trail in Devon, and Kingfisher Trail in Ireland to cover the Figure Eight Trail - able to link two trails at once in a unity. Trails which use multi-modes - part train, part foot for example - have emerged. And the speciality themed trail has become a common place. Throughout there has been the strong idea of using trails as a tool: one of those key tools has been for tourism development. And behind that idea is that trails should be economically productive if at all possible. Only then can the public sector back trails with resources and political good will.
Tourism is a key to the economic productivity of trails. Walking as a leisure activity was estimated to comprise no less than 850 million trips in UK in 1996, generating visitor expenditure in rural areas of £2 billion. Utilitarian walking is declining: leisure walking is increasing. Cycling is also a fast rising activity newly in fashion, with cycle sales outstripping car sales in most northern European countries in the early 1990s. Whole shelves full of new leisure activity magazines, speciality TV travel shows and travel channels, and bigger newspaper travel pages both reflect and spur this market.
Types of Trail for Tourism
The increasing expertise in the trail / tourism interface has led to the emergence of many new types of trail. These include:
Although trails are increasingly seen as an essential part of the tourism infrastructure, many mistakes have been made in developing that infrastructure and many lessons are being slowly learned. Traditionally, trails were planned by trail enthusiasts, keen walkers and cyclists, often with powerful political ideals and skills. They were inspired people, inspired by the finite nature of the trail idea, coupled with its sense of movement and freedom within nature. The route, and the achievement of that route, dominated the trail making process. But to make trails work for tourism new skills are required.
The key to success as a tourism product lies in the early planning stages of any trail. It must be designed to be attractive to its potential markets. That means (see below) that market assessments must be made at the design stage. The basic route should take account of prevailing winds and types of gradient, and the issue of stage lengths must be considered according to the types of market involved. Overnight accommodation, refreshment and toilet facilities should be brought into the design equation. And the route should be planned to be interesting - even exciting - to the market: tourism is essentially escapism, not a chore.
An assessment of the likely markets for the trail can help the design process discussed above. That assessment should be based on the location of the trail, its potential characteristics, its likely marketing resources and partners, and the experience of other trails. It should note that speciality niche markets are likely to be involved, and consider the requirements of those niche markets.
Tourism is an industry which is highly competitive and very dependent on marketing and promotion activity. Successful trails require effective marketing, and that is a complex issue. Tourism is a fashion product, an idea new to trails promoters. Success in trails marketing has come from effective co-ordination with existing local promotion, with effective use of promotions in the media, the integration of programmes of events, and in some cases with the development of Friends of Trails, user groups, and groups of people who help maintain the trails. The message for success is again that the trails must be what the market requires, and that above all the trail must create a fashionable image. Trails which are worthy but boring, or ill conceived, do not succeed.
Very few trails have their own marketing budgets or plans. The new trails consortium, Walking in West Cornwall, featuring specialist press advertising, the distribution of CD ROM's, and a web site is a pointer to future developments. The creation of marketing partnerships and involvement with the private sector is recommended. In Somerset, the River Parrett trail has developed a web site, first class guide book, integration with local area marketing, and a range of merchandise including CDs, and other goods.
Private sector involvement
Tourism is usually a private sector activity. Trail development is typically a public sector or non-profit agency activity. To be successful trails need to learn from the private sector, and to work with the private sector.
Market response and responsiveness is an area where the private operator can provide good practice examples. For instance, the UK's cycle holiday and hire company, Country Lanes, is a splendid example of good practice, aiming at niche markets, using a range of electronic, print and media contact marketing approaches, and understanding the need for quality and fashion appeal. It maintains data bases on customers and customer enquiries, evaluates customer satisfaction and has a range of quality merchandise. (www.countrylanes.co.uk)
Working with the private sector can involve informing local providers of accommodation and meals about the needs of trail users, and introducing them to ideas which have worked successfully in other places. In Switzerland for example , accommodations which provide special facilities for trail users are certified nationally according to two grades of facility. Grade awards depend on the availability of drying rooms, safe overnight cycle storage, basic cycle repair facilities, provision of packed lunches, luggage transfer etc. In return graded accommodations receive special promotion.
One of the areas where the private sector can play a key part is in product development, making the most of the opportunities that a trail provides. Product development opportunities can include:
One of the classic mechanisms to introduce successful integration of the public, private and non profit sectors is to develop a Trail Partnership. Partnerships can be used a fund raiser, a training agency, a marketing organisation, a lobbying group and a think tank. But while partnerships are relatively easy to create, they can be difficult to operate effectively. Much depends on the skills of the partnership manager, and the recognition by partnership members of varying agendas and abilities to deliver.
Issues for the Future
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Updated March 8, 2018