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International Forum for Responsible Tourism, 3rd edition – Conclusion

The third edition of the IFRT focused on promoting the touristic potential in rural areas, arguing the opportunity of local economic and social development through tourism. The main objectives of the forum have included acknowledging local rural identities through the integration of natural elements and cultural values, and starting a well-targeted promotion in which all relevant actors are involved.

This edition reunited specialists from Romania, Bulgaria, Thailand, Libya, the Republic of Moldova, representatives for public authorities (Ministry of Economy, National Authority for Tourism, local authorities), teachers and academics, scientists, managers of well-established organizations (ANTREC; AJTR; cluster associations), travel agencies from Romania and Europe, managers and field promoters.

This edition has been organized with the help of the National Authority for Tourism.

The IFRT wanted to answer with professional and scientific solutions to the challenges of the present in this field – a field which has not known a greater dynamic that it does today –:

  • Identifying ways in which the potential for a responsible tourism in rural areas can be capitalized on through combining all natural and anthropic elements, while acknowledging the necessity to articulate them in a complex and complete touristic product.
  • The necessity of local active involvement on behalf of public and private actors. Basically, there is no way we can manage without a public-private partnership due to the type of touristic products and demands for functioning of the touristic destinations.
  • Acknowledging the importance of and supporting tourism as a dynamic and competitive sector through a couple of programmes meant for development and promotion both nationally and internationally. Rural tourism can grow massively through appropriate politics. It is not only about the investments, but more about crossing some cultural and bureaucratic barriers.
  • Presently there are competitive destinations, areas that can be capitalized on by practicing responsible tourism, and serve as strategy models for other communities and regions.
  • There is a need for developing marketing strategies for rural tourism, including the idea of the tourist being involved in the making of the touristic product.
  • Identifying some new solutions and opportunities for the development of the rural areas through tourism. A cluster could be one of the appropriate structures for this.
  • Organizing conferences, seminars, symposiums, workshops; writing and publishing multidisciplinary articles and papers on different themes related to responsible tourism.
  • An active participation of our country – with products specific to rural tourism – in the European and global professional, scientific, and economic circuit. It has been highlighted the need for complex packages which take into account the tourists integration in the rural community’s real life with the aim of offering unique and specific experiences.
  • Finding programmes and funding meant to develop and promote rural tourism destinations.
  • Educating tourists and actors from the touristic sector through complete and accurate information on responsible tourism, on its long-term benefits and consequences in community development.

Besides the theoretical part, the IFRT has also a practical character. Throughout the event the participants visited objectives which are specific to rural tourism, such as: agritouristic boarding houses, craft workshops (pottery, weaving), old traditional landlords’ houses. Thus they had the chance to make contact with rural tourism, and acknowledge the problems it is facing. Special thanks to ANTREC (The Romanian National Association for Rural, Ecological, and Cultural Tourism) for making these visits possible.

 

Strengths:

  • Rural communities’ uniqueness and cultural value;
  • Foreign tourists’ interest for some rural areas in Romania and for the unique experiences they can create;
  • Some internationally acknowledged competitive destinations;
  • Some internationally acknowledged brands, which can be used as basis for promoting strategies;
  • The diversity of natural and anthropic resources, and the possibility of integrating them in a complex touristic product;
  • The possibility of diversifying and developing of rural tourism as source of income;
  • A great number of events related to rural communities’ lives and traditions, events which can be appealing to tourists;

 

Weaknesses:

  • A low level of acknowledgement and awareness towards Romania’s rural tourism potential;
  • An insignificant participation of tourism (just 0,1%) to the rural economy;
  • The lack of coordination in the field which leads to sporadic and unarticulated individual actions;
  • A low vocational training of the staff working in the field;
  • A low interest in developing complex and responsible touristic products (apart from accommodation) that could capitalize on local resources and thus ensure jobs and income;
  • An insufficient capitalization of creativity in developing touristic products;
  • Excessive bureaucracy;
  • The exodus of young and qualified workforce from rural touristic areas towards the big cities;
  • The disappearance of tourism sections from high schools;
  • Traditional architectural alteration;
  • The lack of integrated developing strategies for touristic cities and villages – ergo their chaotic development;
  • Insufficient utilization of the internet with a marketing and informative purpose.

 

Mandatory actions:

  • Identifying competitive destinations and promote them; also acknowledging them as good-practice examples for the rural communities;
  • Continuing with fact-finding visits (especially for influencers);
  • Developing complex touristic packages based on elements found in communities’ lives;
  • Creating commune promoting tactics based on the potential of the destination;
  • Identifying the most efficient promoting channels;
  • Supporting Romanian tourism journalists and magazines;
  • Combining scientific activities and tourism journalism in order to create a public professional agenda;
  • Developing vocational training programmes in the field of rural tourism;
  • Developing through cluster structures;
  • Continuous event organization meant to create connections between public authorities and private actors, between theory and practice (the 4th edition of the IFRT will take place in the fall of 2014);
  • Developing communication and information platforms dealing with responsible tourism (turismulresponsabil.ro).

 

The participants concluded that a cross-sectoral strategy for developing responsible tourism in rural areas is needed. It should involve public authorities, local communities, academics and private actors. This strategy should be based on raising awareness on responsible tourism, on developing a partnership between touristic actors from each community, but also on a complete and accurate understanding of the relationship between the natural potential and the community. This realationship should be explored and capitalized on in order to provide the tourist with a unique experience.

The organizers’ efforts to create connections between the public authorities and the private sector, as