A Sustainable Development Factor for Improving the ‘Health’ of Rural Settlements. Case Study Apuseni Mountains Area

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The sustainability of agritourism on the “health” of rural environment derives from the fact that this activity cannot be dissociated from the economic, social and cultural life of the community. Between tourism and environment there is a close relationship based on: the environmental elements considered to be tourist attractions; facilities and tourism infrastructure; and the impacts generated by tourism development and tourist use on the environment and settlements [26]. The link between agritourism and the sustainability of rural settlements derives from the definition of this activity. Agritourism (see Table 1) is as a form of rural tourism [13] a hospitality activity, performed by agricultural entrepreneurs and their families, that first of all, must remain connected to farming activities (which involves production activities, activities of processing agricultural products in the household and their marketing), [24], and complementary to developing tourism activities, that completes the income from agricultural activity [27]. We conclude that there is a sustainable activity for agricultural activities and for stopping migration.

Therefore, agritourism implies the existence of two main activities: agricultural and tourism activities, which assume three elements specific to any tourist product with some particularities in this case: accommodation, food and entertainment [28], and of these peculiarities of the tourist product rural settlements may have a chance to win:-

The first element of the agritourism product is accommodation. The farmer has the possibility to obtain additional income from renting the surplus of rooms existing in the farm. The agritourism accommodation service is thus intertwined with the main activity of the farmer (agriculture), but without interfering with it.-

The second element of the agritourism product is food. Through food, the farmer has the possibility of direct capitalization of agricultural production, being a direct relationship between the person who offers the services (the farmer and his family) and the one who requests them (the tourist). Another peculiarity of food in agritourism is the fact that it is based on the traditional cuisine of the place and prepared with products from their own household, or from the area/region, thus supporting both the agritourism farm and the area it is part of.-

The third element of the agritourism product is tourist entertainment. In the case of agritourism, the tourist entertainment is based on traditional activities in the farm or household where the tourist can actively or passively participate.

The preservation of a rural world, with everything that is significant, can take into account the initiation and development of this form of tourism. The meeting between the rural area, a particularly fragile environment, and the dynamism imposed by the tourism phenomenon poses the risk of restructuring. However, agritourism must become an alternative to the problems of rural settlement, so in this context it may take three forms (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Capitalizing the full potential of rural regions and localities through agritourism (processing after 6,9,10,14,27).

The impact of agritourism on quality of life standards is significant in terms of profit, in many ways, [29], so the rural areas where agritourism will be practiced will become the places where all elements of local sustainable development will be assembled [5,30]. There will appear an interest in improving the infrastructure, of creating a spiritual life of rural localities, strategic objectives may be achieved regarding the human factor, technical endowments and heritage conservation [31,32,33]. So in order to support these statements, illustrated in Figure 2, we have briefly reviewed some examples of good practices, focusing on community approach and territorial cohesion in rural areas.

Figure 2. The importance of agritourism sustainable development for rural settlements [5,30,31,32].

Maintaining agricultural activity is a major challenge for European rural areas. The decline of local economies affects the environment, landscapes and other economic sectors, especially tourism and social life. Agritourism can be a way of diversifying rural economies in rural areas and can provide alternative incomes for the population of these areas, through the quality and authenticity of traditional products, which represent the identity of popular localities, and attract consumers, saturated by the homogeneity of the same products. However, the quality of local products has a special role to play in influencing and securing agritourism [19]. Therefore, the focus should be on strong partnerships, to ensure mixing/blending of cultural activities, cultural heritage, gastronomy, agriculture. There are some practical examples from different countries, where this blending was made possible through some projects in which, through the approach or benefits of the projects, the beneficial consequences mentioned in Figure 2 or others express the link between agritourism and sustainability:-

The Province of Belluno, Italy, has developed a new approach regarding the development of mountainous territory, involving different economic sectors. “Routes to mountain aromas” was a project linking tour operators with local agricultural products from the territory. The tourist package developed includes local agricultural products, the environment and landscapes, crafts and culture, traditions, the aim being to bring together various productive sectors such as farmers, craftsmen, tourists and cultural activities through a multi-sectorial approach, supporting social cohesion by linking territorial tourism activities, encouraging the use of local products [19].-

The “Rural Tourism District” is another innovative project applied in the Valle del Crocchio Local Action Group from Italy. The project demonstrates innovation and forward thinking because it anticipated regional regulation regarding rural districts at a time when no other area had thought about it. The project itself focuses on community approach and territorial cohesion in rural areas through an integrated package of activities that have developed the quality of infrastructure for agritourism in the region and connects: the tourist accommodation structures with agriculture; local cooperatives; cultural attractions such as museums and architectural sites and recreational activities such as pedestrianized road networks [20].-

The project “Grandmother’s House”, from GA Pomoottoriry LAG, Finland, was the idea of a local who focused on the country’s lifestyle, and the economic and ecological benefits were taken into account, the project being implemented by local authorities in order to capitalize natural and anthropogenic resources in the region and encourage migration in this region, given the economic benefits generated by the growth of housing development. The repopulation of this rural area was one of the priorities of the LAG, at the same time as economic development strategy, coupled with the stimulation of tourism and other service sectors [20].-

“Intelligent Village of the Future (Ruhtinansalmi)” from Finland, in this case, the proposed activity of the project takes place in an active and innovative but isolated village in the northeastern part of Finland. As in many isolated areas of Europe, the village faces a population decline, the effect of an economy based on agriculture that has become unprofitable for the population. This project has been developed to improve the situation of the community as this project proposes the development of infrastructure and services to attract people from all over the world or from other countries to live, work or spend a holiday in the area. The aims of this project were: to provide fast internet in the village; to develop methods of obtaining bio energy; to renovate and equip the adult education center from locality; to develop sites for promoting the area (both in German and English); to test activities such as adventure tourism; to map the properties and to promote them for sale or rent; to place tourist information signs in areas where they do not exist [21].-

The “Spa center on a farm built in 1645” from The Netherlands is another example of community approach and territorial cohesion. One of the features that make this project different is the high level of cooperation with local and regional entrepreneurs for the supply of beverages or food [21].

Agritourism, more than any other field of activity, is dependent on the environment, representing its “raw material”, the object and field of activity and the development of tourism, being its framework support, or the bearer of its resources. Tourism is carried out in the environment, and the environment and its quality can favor or disadvantage tourism activities [34]. Some principles can be mentioned in the case of agritourism in order for it to be sustainable tourism: [35] economic development, social development and environmental protection.

There are also many benefits for the tourists willing to practice this activity (see Table 2).

World Tourism Organization statistics show that forms of tourism in rural area are increasing. Specialists believe that rural communities will be more successful in the future in caring out agritourism activities for several reasons [36]:-

in Europe, the aging population leads to an increase in the number of elderly tourists attracted by this form of tourism;-

to increase interest in environmental and health issues;-

those from urban area have short vacations, so they want destinations that are easy to find and affordable from a financial point of view;-

to increase the number of those who want a quiet tourist area in an unpolluted environment.


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