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The future of European tourism may be more rural and more local

Recently, it has been very interesting to learn how European countries are preparing for the post-COVID19 future. Our membership of ETOA (European Tour Operators Association) has given us access to some great insights via webinars presented by expert professionals on the ground.

In future it may not be possible for people to descend on the most popular tourist hotspots in the same numbers, so diversification of destinations and experiences seems likely to take place. More than ever, it is anticipated that people will value open spaces, where the difficulties of social distancing (if that is to remain a part of our lives) are fewer.

The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have inspired people with a greater love of nature and the outdoors; and one aspect of this already being noticed is the interest in farm-stay holidays. Here in the UK, for example, Farm Stay UK (farmstay.co.uk) - a non-profit co-operative of rural properties - is seeing year-on-year web traffic up 200 per cent. All over Europe there is a wonderful variety of farm-stay properties in all types of settings; from the gorgeous mountain scenery of the Tyrol to the wide-open spaces of Portugal's Alentejo, or the olive groves of rural Tuscany. The best of this agri-tourism accommodation provides a unique sense of space, tranquillity and connectedness with nature.

In general, it seems that there will be more emphasis on rural experiences and contact with local communities. For example, Spain's region of Castile & Leon is getting ready to develop more rural visitor experiences such as wine tourism. In Portugal, the national network of cycle paths and trails will expand. In the Loire-Atlantique and other French regions tourism chiefs anticipate a growing interest in rural tourism and contact with local people, with community involvement. Puglia in Italy is looking to capitalise on its long-held traditions of local hospitality and regional cuisine. The Baltic countries, too, are aiming to boost rural tourism as part of their offer in the future.

There are two types of visitor to consider. The first is the domestic traveller; or perhaps someone from a neighbouring country (as in the case of the Baltic States, who have formed a 'travel bubble' among themselves). It seems likely that when people begin to travel again it will be to places near them - initially - perhaps with an eye to visiting somewhere new. The other is the long-haul traveller. The European Travel Commission recently carried out research in key overseas markets like Brazil, USA, Russia, China, Japan and India, and discovered that in general there was low interest in foreign travel; but such as there was indicated a preference for less crowded areas. There was reduced interest in visiting the recognized 'must-see' tourist sites.

There's so much that the rural parts of Europe can offer: beautiful national parks, unspoilt nature, hiking, cycling, gastronomy, wine and local hospitality, delightful smaller towns and villages. Most importantly, there's the assurance of regional tourist boards that these experiences can be managed in a safe and COVID-aware way for the visitor. It's no surprise that would-be travellers are becoming more alert to these opportunities; and this seems likely to be a noticeable trend well into the future.

Date: 15/07/2020 | Author: Jonathan Taylor

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