Tourism: An opportunity for the development of Rural Areas (Part 2)

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Author: Coralie Marti
Country: France

III. Hypotheses, risks and externalities

The central objective of investor intervention to support rural tourism development is often to generate additional income for the local population by involving them in tourism development through the creation and marketing of tourism products. Most of the time, the development of these products is financed through grants, in-kind contributions, and microcredits.

However, this type of initiative sometimes fails due to a lack of considerations, particularly during its design. Many of the initial projects financed by investors to develop rural tourism have led to a radical change in the inhabitants’ way of life, with a triple consequence: the creation of new inequalities, the disturbance of community balance and the intensification of environmental damage. Some projects have taken measures to reduce negative externalities with actions such as the following:

  • Supporting the diversification of activities beyond hotel and food services, as these only benefit a small number of people. Other activities that can be implemented are initiatives to rescue local agricultural production for tourism purposes (e.g., thematic festivals, hotels sourcing locally, etc.) and the creation of complementary leisure activities that require little capital (e.g., community guided tours, gastronomy workshops, activities to discover certain aspects of the local way of life, wellness-related services, etc.).
  • Considering measures to limit or manage conflicts related to the use of resources, such as prioritizing water for agricultural use, limiting the number of visitors per day, managing residents’ access to tourism infrastructure and services, such as subsidized transportation.
  • Using a part of tourism revenues to finance investments of public interest and environmental protection (e.g., travel taxes, right of entry into a protected natural area, etc.).
  • Raising awareness among residents and tourists regarding environmentally sustainable practices, welcoming visitors, and respecting the local way of life.
  • Involving the entire value chain in the project in order to maximize the impact on local economic life (e.g., facilitate the purchase of handicrafts or the sourcing of restaurants from local producers).
  • Supporting the development of offers managed by tourism professionals (i.e., accommodation, adventure sports, transportation, etc.) and following the marketing standards of tour operators.
  • Obtaining the support of local associations and cooperatives capable of gaining the trust and involving the population.
  • Establishing a long-term commitment and train people to guarantee the sustainability of the dynamics created by the intervention.

Strategies aimed at developing tourism in rural environments are increasingly focused on financing large public infrastructure projects, which are considered a prerequisite to offer an environment conducive to the arrival of tourists and accelerate private initiative. For example, improving a destination’s accessibility, waste management, and water supply contributes to making it more attractive, encouraging locals to develop tourism products.

Indeed, tourism development cannot be sustainable if it is not demand-driven and based on a sound economic model. On the one hand, visitors’ expectations in terms of safety, comfort and quality and, on the other hand, the market potential of a destination, a product, or an activity, must be at the center of the design of any intervention. To make tourism more sustainable, it is necessary to maintain a high level of satisfaction among tourists and ensure that tourism services producers have the means to produce and market them. One way to achieve this, for example, is by ensuring the supply of electricity or access to telecommunications.

For all these reasons, a deep strategic analysis that identifies the hypotheses and the prerequisites for the proper development of the intervention logic is essential when designing a program to support rural tourism development. Furthermore, this analysis should identify the possible negative externalities of tourism development. Such analysis requires coordination among the other actors so that the strategies are complementary and the changes created by tourism development in the rural environment are managed. Intervention strategies must take into account sustainability and tourism-induced changes in rural societies.

IV. Definition of monitoring and evaluation indicators  

The most widely accepted definition of sustainable tourism is the one proposed by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in their joint report “Making Tourism More Sustainable – A Guide for Policy Makers”, where it is defined as “tourism that takes full account of current and future economic, social and environmental impacts to meet the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities”. And it establishes that sustainable tourism must:

  • Make optimal use of environmental resources, which are a fundamental element of tourism development, maintain essential ecological processes and help to conserve natural resources and biological diversity.
  • Respect the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities, preserve their cultural and architectural assets and traditional values, and contribute to intercultural understanding and tolerance.
  • Ensure viable long-term economic activities that provide all stakeholders with well-distributed socio-economic benefits, including opportunities for stable employment, income earning and social services for host communities, and that contribute to poverty reduction.

Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) in the tourism sector has a vast and complex potential field of application. Currently, tourism M&E models focus on measuring the following dimensions:

  • The economic effect of tourists visiting the destination, which is recorded through their expenses during the trip. These include accommodation, food, transportation, activities and shopping, among other goods and services consumed. Total tourist expenditure fluctuates according to the number of nights, the type of tourist and tourism product, the duration of the trip, among other elements. The “expenditure per night” ratio is an important indicator to assess the economic efficiency of tourist activity in the territory. The occupancy rate and revenue per room are equally important in terms of accommodation infrastructure. The more complex models also make it possible, with the help of multipliers, to assess the direct, indirect and induced economic repercussions of tourism expenditures on the territory.
  • Job creation is one main component of the social efficiency of tourism activity in a destination. Measuring employment requires information, such as the number of employees, their level of education and gender, the level of job stability, among other details. The result of the “employment per night” indicator depends on the type of tourism product, its level of quality, price and comfort, as well as the size of the facilities, among other characteristics.
  • Quality is a key consideration and a factor in the competitiveness of tourism destinations. Some countries have established quality standards and indicators for the tourism industry and its sub-segments, such as accommodation and training. Measuring the quality of the supply in a destination can also be based on the perceptions of tourists, with the help of satisfaction indicators.
  • Recently, decision-makers begin to take an interest in the pressures that tourism causes on the environment. Tourism, like any human activity, takes up space, alters the landscape and land use, consumes environmental resources, such as water and energy, and produces waste in different ways. The measurement of these elements should be as much a part of the evaluation of the effects of tourism as the indicators that seek to measure its positive aspects. This dimension tends to be increasingly important due to the demands of local populations, but also of a certain sector of the tourism market that wants to consume more sustainably.

Finally, it is useful to regularly compare the results obtained with those of other similar destinations to identify differences in performance and to take inspiration from the best practices of other destinations to improve them.


UNEP, UNWTO (2006) “Making Tourism More Sustainable – A Guide for Policy Makers” Available at (accessed July 1, 2020).

Holland, J; Burian, M; Dixey, L. (2003) “Tourism in Poor Rural Areas Diversifying the product and expanding the benefits in rural Uganda and the Czech Republic” in Pro-Poor Tourism Working Paper No. 12. Available at (accessed January 29, 2021).

Coralie Marti is an M&E consultant specialized in culture and tourism project development and management and territorial development strategies. She has collaborated with PRiME as a trainer for the Fundamentals of M&E 1 online course.