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Strategies for Rural Tourism and the Recovery of Cultural Heritage: Case Study of La Vera, Spain

ABSTRACT

In the mid-eighties, the European institutions sliow their growing concent for the economic and social cohesion of the territory and the consequences that the imminent reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) could have on the rural environment.

In this context, the LEADER Initiative (acronyms that correspond to the French term Liaison Entre Actions de Développement de 1’Economie Rurale) and, in the Spanish case, the PRODER Program (Program of Development and Economic Diversification of Rural Areas) aspire to create employment in alternative sectors to agriculture with the objective of retaining, in rural areas, the population expelled from the primary sector.

Within these programs and based on a local area of action, the different Local Action Groups (LAGs) must define their rural development strategies. Tins is when many rural spaces turn the rural tourism sector into an axis of development. Often, tourism investments will be accompanied by other support actions aimed at the recoveiy of various elements of cultural heritage.

Using the methodology of the case study, and based on the example of the region of La Vera (Extremadura, Spain), this research aims to analyze the practical application of this type of program and, especially, the strategy and investments directed to the promotion of rural tourism, hi this endeavor, special attention will be given to several issues such as (1) the distribution of the investments made and the implicit objectives to them; (2) the involvement of the local population in the promotion of projects associated with niral tourism; and (3) the feasibility, in the long term, of the tourism projects promoted.

Understanding, in its just terms, of the tourism development strategy of the region of La Vera will require us to analyze those other actions, which regardless of the resources allocated to the promotion of rural tourism are aimed at enhancing the tourist resources of the area with various lines of action among which the recoveiy of heritage.

The research provides interesting conclusions about the projects executed, the involvement of local promoters in the realization of tourism investments, and the orientation of public investments aimed at the recoveiy of cultural heritage.

INTRODUCTION

In 1986, the Single European Act (in Article 118) considers tourism as one of the sectors that could contribute the most to the development of the niral environment and the cohesion of the territory It was understood, even then, that niral tourism could be a usefill instrument to compensate for the decrease in agrarian income derived from the imminent refonns of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). These are refonns that the European Commission outlines through various statements, such as the reports on the “Perspectives on the CAP” (1985), “The future of the niral world” (1988), or the one known as “Agenda 2000” (1997). In these documents, it is recognized that although agriculture was still of great importance in niral areas, it could no longer articulate the nual economy (Pisani, 1994), and there is a commitment to the economic diversification of the rur al environment.

In this context, rural development policies conceive rural tourism as “tourism with a difference”, an alternative to traditional “sun and beach” tourism. The promotion of this activity linked to agricultural holdings would lead to occupy part of the labor surpluses of farms and could become an ideal supplement to fanners’ income. In addition, the use and recovery of old buildings enable them to perform this activity without having to resort to the fanner’s indebtedness to make large investments.

It is then when through several calls (1991, 1994, 2000) that the European Commission promotes the Leader Initiative, a novel proposal whose aim is to promote endogenous and sustainable development of rural areas. The promotion of rural tourism will thus become one of the main axes of development underlying these programs.

The response to the first calls of the Leader Initiative was so positive that many territories that were interested in its application could not have access to it. To respond to this demand, some countries approved similar programs inspired by the model proposed by the Leader. This is the case of the Spanish authorities, who through their Ministry of Agriculture approved two editions of the PRODER Program (1996: 2002).

Although, initially, the interest of Leader and PRODER in rural tourism was linked to agricultural operations, several investigations, such as those by Amalte and Oliveira (2009) or Pulido and Cárdenas (2011), show that the presence of farmers among the promoters of tourism investments will be symbolic.

In any case, the application of rural development programs during the 1990s marks a milestone in the emergence of a sector, which at the beginning of that decade hardly had a testimonial presence in rural areas. What happened in Extremadura (which is the region where the case study of this research is located) is a good proof of this: from 1993 to 2010, more than 600 tourist establishments were created in rural Extremadura (Campesino, Sánchez, and Rengifo, 2010). According to the estimates of Mejias (2006) in this region, during the second half of the 1990s, due to the Leader II Initiative and the PRODER I Program, more than 3500 accommodation places were created, and around 80% of the beds offered in Extremadura. However, despite these achievements, we must be cautious when pondering the impact of these programs on the national aggregate of the tourism sector; in fact, in 2003. the accommodation places offered by rural areas barely accounted for 2% of the total of the Spanish tourism sector (Alario, 2004).

Under the definition of “rural tourism”, depending on the motivation for demand, different ways of practicing tourism can be differentiated. Ivars (2000) highlights the following: agrotourism, interior tourism, ecotourism, cultural tourism, etc. Ruiz (1995) considers that a number of variables influence the expectations that the tourist activity generates hi the rural world, such as (1) saturation of sun and beach tourist areas; (2) growing demand for tourism related to the environment, cultural heritage, or sports; (3) positive (even idyllic) image that the media conveys of the rural way of life; and (4) new trends consisting of short stays in nearby areas.

However, the fact that a certain territory allocates a large amount of resources to the promotion of rural tourism will not be enough to ensure its success. Not all rur al areas have the same potential to promote a competitive tourism sector. Before the execution of this type of investment, the natural, cultural, economic, and human resources of the territory must be taken into account.

Although tourism can contribute to the development of the most backward areas and the cohesion of the conununity territory, Millan (2002) reflects the difficulties involved in promoting quality tourism in spaces characterized by demographic regression, their aging population, or their low-skilled workforce. In these areas, even the existence of great tourist attractions does not guarantee the success of the policies that promote this activity. For the aforementioned author, when a territory undertakes a tourism development strategy, it must

  • a) avoid tourist congestion in rural areas;
  • b) achieve to protect them within management policies that propose a comprehensive vision of the territory;
  • c) tr ain the local workers to perform the different activities in this sector;
  • d) create a wide range of leisure alternatives; and
  • e) offer an adequate and attractive image of the space that is to be promoted.

Despite their limited resources and their clear subsidiary natur e regarding the regional policy or agrarian policy, rural development progr ams achieved remarkable results and aroused the illusions of the majority of Europe’s rural environment. The explanation for this apparent contradiction between resources, results, and expectations is found in the methodology applied. The peculiarities of this development model have been the object of numerous investigations, both from a theoretical and empirical point of view (Zapatero and Sánchez, 1999; Gañido and Moyano, 2002; Cebrián, 2003; Nieto and Gurria, 2010; Ramos and Gañido, 2014; Navarro, Woods and Cejudo, 2016; Nieto and Cárdenas, 2017).

An appropriate definition of the territory is essential when applying these programs. At local (too small) or regional (very broad) level, the region is understood as “that territorial area homogeneous enough to share problems and solutions” (Guiberteau, 2002, p. 95). Any analysis that aspires to deepen the knowledge of rural development programs and strategies to promote tourism should take a regional area of activity as reference.

Given some previous ideas regarding the relevance that the promotion of tourism acquires within rural development programs, the following section specifies the objectives of the research and details its methodological aspects. In the third section, bearing in mind the aforementioned objectives, the results of the investigation are addressed; and, finally, in the fourth section, its most relevant conclusions are shown.

OBJECTIVE AND METHODOLOGY OF THE RESEARCH

OBJECTIVE OF THE INVESTIGATION

Based on the methodology of the case study, this paper aims to analyze the practical application of rural development progr ams and, in particular, the strategy and investments aimed at promoting rural tourism. In this endeavor, the following will be studied: (1) projects promoted by private investors and (2) actions led by public entities.

The following will be studied regarding private promoters: (1) distribution and objectives of their investments and (2) participation of local stakeholders in the promotion of tourism projects.

Regarding public actions, complementary investments aimed at promoting rural tourism will be analyzed, as well as those that apart from the aforementioned measure, seek to recover rural heritage elements.

THE REGION OF LA VERA AS AN OBJECT OF THE CASE STUDY

Within a region such as Extremadura, which in itself constitutes an ideal scenario to analyze the application of rural development programs

  • (González, 2006), La Vera has a series of characteristics that make it be considered a paradigmatic study of the case. The choice of the case is a decision of great importance, which determines the success of this type of investigation. From the methodological point of view, it is essential:
    • a) For the chosen case to have its limits clear.

Located in the Northeast of the province of Cáceres, with an area of 885.98 km2, and composed of a total of 19 municipalities, the region of La Vera is bordered to the North by the Southern tip of the Siena de Gredos and the Valle del Jerte, to the East by the provinces of Ávila and Toledo, to the South by the Tiétar river; and to the West by the region of Plasencia (Fig. 3.1).

Limits and location of the scope of the study

FIGURE 3.1 Limits and location of the scope of the study.

b) For it to be a relevant case, valid to contrast what one wishes to study.

In La Vera, there are great natural and heritage resources that boost rural tourism to become one of the main axes of development of the region.

Siena de Gredos should be highlighted among the natural resources, which, depending on its altitude, has a great wealth of flora and fauna; its foothills characterize the physiography of La Vera. Some of its most emblematic peaks are La Covacha (Losar), Los Infiernillos (Guijo de Santa Bárbara), El Cancho (Talavemela), and La Panera (Aldeanueva).

On the other hand, its hydrographic network, composed of numerous Gorges, with pure and crystalline waters, constitutes a great tourist attraction of the area. The embedding of these Gorges in the granitic bedrock of Gredos leads to the formation of natural “pools”, waterfalls, and bathing areas, which become a leading tourist resource in the summer season. Some of these areas have their own particular names: Las Pilas (Collado), El Trabuquete and Estaca (Guijo de Santa Bárbara), El Lago (Jaraíz), Puente Jaranda (Jarandilla), Cuartos (Losar), El Tobogán or el Calambuco (Villanueva), etc.

The landscape wealth of the region of La Vera is also a consequence of its climatology. The influence of the Siena de Gredos conditions the climate of La Vera, creating a Mediterranean microclimate characterized by mild temperatures and abundant humidity.

Remarkable cultural resources should be added to the tourist potentialities that the natural resources offer, among which the following stand out: (1) festivities declared of regional tourist interest such as Los Empalaos in Valverde or El Peropalo in Villanueva and (2) an enormous architectural and cultural heritage, distributed throughout the region, and whose best examples are the five municipalities declared Historic-Artistic Sites: Cuacos de Yuste, Garganta la Olla, Pasaron, Valverde, and Villanueva.

c) For it to be a representative case of the reality that one wishes to study:

The evolution of this region is representative of the trend followed by the whole rural area of Extremadura and Spain. Like many other rural areas, since the 1980s, La Vera has had to face a real structural change in circumstances where the economy of La Vera has been characterized by its low diversification, excessive dependence on employment and income from the primary sector, low-skilled human resources, considerable deficiencies in terms of infrastructure, unemployment rates above the regional and national average, etc.

APPROACH OF THE INVESTIGATION AND SELECTION OF THE SAMPLE

In relation to the time horizon of research, studying a rural development strategy requires perspective. Therefore, the proposed analysis will refer to a sufficiently long period so that these types of programs can be effective and far back in time to analyze the viability that the projects driven by it may have had in the long term.

Therefore, the temporal scope of the research will cover the two editions in which the PRODER Program was applied; that is, from the second half of the 1990s to the fust half of the 2000s; a decade seems a reasonable period of time so that the action of these Progr ams can be materialized on the territory.

In their development strategies, these programs aim to take advantage of all the productive activities that are carried out, or can be carried out, on the territory. This multisectoral nature is transferred to the structure of the program. Although there are differences in the denomination of the different measures in the two editions of the PRODER Program, Table 3.1, which is based on their prupose, groups them together and reflects the investment committed in each of them:

TABLE 3.1 Distribution by Investment Measures made in PRODER I and II in La Vera.

PRODERI

%

PRODER II

o/o

CEDER operation and technical assistance

608,532.98

11

666,967.20

12

Recovery and conservation of the environment

1,227,340.71

23

1,097,471.54

20

Total non-productive measures

1,835,873.69

34

1,764,438.74

32

Promotion of rural tourism.

2.157,490.16

40

2,072,606.99

38

SMEs, crafts, and services

943,459.43

17

722.488.60

14

Valorization of agricultural prodtrction

483,272.34

9

886,140.89

16

Total productive measures

3,584,221.93

66

3,681,236.48

68

Source: Own elaboration based on the data provided by ADICOVER.

Due to the productive nature of the projects implemented within the measure of promotion of rural tourism, most of the investments made within this line of action will have a promoter and will be of private nature. In relation to these projects, to address some of the objectives of the research, it was necessary to resort to a qualitative methodology based on extensive field work, in which the main source of information was conducting interviews with the promoters of tourism projects.

When conducting interviews, to obtain a sample of the most interesting actions promoted by private developers, the following criteria were applied:

  • a) That the boosting and main source of financing of the action is private.
  • b) That the PRODER subsidy should have a minimum value of €12,000.
  • c) That PRODER’s contribution should represent at least 20% of the final investment.

Table 3.2 classifies the private projects under analysis, details their investment, as well as the representativeness of the sample according to the criteria discussed.

TABLE 3.2 Classification of Private Projects and Representativeness of the Sample.

Typology of the projects

Total projects

Investment

Sample projects

Investment sample

o/o

Construction of rural accommodation

17

2,679,160.29

14

2.280,642.50

85.12

Modernization and equipment accommodation

10

658,302.90

5

604.596.11

91.84

Modernization restaurants

4

169,167.78

3

154.664.80

91.43

Complementary activities

3

65,896.81

1

32,721.91

49.65

Total

34

3,572,527.78

23

3,072,595.32

86.01

Source: Own elaboration.

Investigations based on case studies do not justify their representativeness based on conducting a large number of interviews, hi this type of analysis, representativeness cannot be justified in statistical terms because the methodology itself limits the fieldwork to the case under investigation. The aforementioned representativeness must be justified in analytical terms, proving that “the case is appropriate for the type of theoretical discussion that is to be explained” (Coller, 2000, p. 56). Based on this premise, by conducting interviews with a sample of private promoters, it was possible to obtain the qualified opinions of those who directly participated in the management and execution of 86.01% of the investments committed in private projects. Finally, it should be noted that conducting the interviews at the place where the investments were made allowed for a better understanding of their purpose and an “in sftw” evaluation of the projects included in the sample.

 
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