The Role of Tourism in Rural Development Through a Comparative Analysis of a Greek and a Hungarian Rural Tourism Area
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The rural regions occupy a largely extended part of the European Union and they are characterized as vital for economic growth and social cohesion. Agriculture and forestry represent activities which occupy large fields of land and play a primary role in the managing of the rich natural resources and in the formation of the landscape in the rural regions, where they constitute an essential part of the natural environment and cultural heritage. Rural development is a crucial tool for the redevelopment of the agricultural sector and the promotion of differentiation and innovation in the rural regions. The enlargement of the European Union has changed the map of agriculture and an appropriate redevelopment procedure is essential for the development. The rural development policy can contribute decisively to the proper orientation of this process towards a more flexible economy of higher value added, taking always into consideration the cultural, social and environmental singularities of the rural regions. An integrated policy on countryside development should always consider the potential that each region, has the needs and the potentials of the rural sector for increase in value added, as well as the productive singularities regarding the cooperation and the sustainability of operations, and finally the rural families strategies as expressed through the liveliness in the search for complementary activities and for the ensuring of essential social services. Actually, the rural community has already proceeded towards a union of the rural and the non-rural activities in a way that ensures a worthy primary production, as well as simultaneous business action in commerce and gradually in the industrial sector and in the services. At the same time, the small country town becomes the centre of these developments constituting thus, an unquestionable social, cultural and economic centre. However, this role is not institutionalized nor reinforced by supportive mechanisms. Although spatially the organization of the supportive mechanisms at the level of a prefecture’s capital seems to be right, their operation does not highlight nor support the potential and the advantages of their regional economies which are organized around the town. This results from the inadequate operation of the unions, the lack of specialized executives and also from the contrasting interests which are developed between the capital of the prefecture and the town, regarding the claim of the local commercial market and the investments for the formation of employment posts. The present study begins with the need for new ideas and complementary activities in the rural sector, which will suggest methods that will lead to sustainable development and also the formation of the necessary conditions for the fulfillment of the needs and prospects of the residents of the rural regions, so that extended urbanization will be suspended or limited. In this study we present the importance of marketing and management as a strategic procedure contributing to rural tourism development and competitiveness. Our aim is to recommend the appropriate strategies and techniques that need to be implemented for successful solutions to the problems. We examine Greek and Hungarian villages that display different levels of rural tourism development, where with the help of personal field research, questionnaires and interviews of the local citizens and entrepreneurs working in rural tourism, we could answer some questions. Moreover, we evaluate the similarities and differences that we discovered during our research and we recommend the positive and negative steps for each country. We investigate, in an extensive bibliography, the way in which rural tourism is developed in each country and which good practices are followed. The analysis of these points proves that the two countries are full of natural beauty, mountain areas, rivers, lakes, biotopes and cultural traditions that may even derive from the ancient times. The planning and development of rural tourism depends on the geographical location and the existence of the previously mentioned characteristics, the architectural infrastructure of the region, the natural, cultural and traditional heritage. After the selection of the appropriate region, the status of the infrastructures and settlements is examined in order to ensure that they are environmentally-friendly, they offer comfort and cleanliness and are specialized in quality services. It is very important for the success of rural tourism that the internal structure is based on the continual training of the owners and their specialization in the offering of qualitative services. The services offered include accommodation and food, the sports and tourism facilities, as well as the participation in rural activities and the informing of the visitors on issues of rural life. An essential specification is the offering of qualitative services which will be certified by qualified organizations, which will determine the quality criteria. In conclusion, the use of technology contributes to the saving of time for the materialization operators and for the general public. The use of the internet, the reservation system, even the tourism agents contribute to the promotion of rural tourism in both countries and its wider expansion, too.