The Public Sector's Role in Fostering Development in Low-Density Areas: The Case of Housing Tourism

The Public Sector's Role in Fostering Development in Low-Density Areas: The Case of Housing Tourism

José Luís Braga (Polytechnic Institute of Tomar, Portugal) and Jorge Manuel Lopes (ISAG – European Business School, Portugal)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1302-6.ch012
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This chapter critically analyzes the public sector action regarding Housing Tourism (HT). The methodology employed was Grounded Theory. The collected data came from 53 non-structured interviews, mainly carried out on site with the owners/hosts of HT houses in Portugal. The relevant results show that the public sector, within the scope of its institutional relationship with the HT ventures: is not promoting effectively the surroundings of manor houses; doesn't assure a sound regulation of this activity, without considering the singular identity of the houses; limits the financing to the HT units according to their renovation projects, their financial sustainability, the host's adherence to the lodging modality in question and the public utility of manor houses. Therefore, authors conclude that the public sector should: legally acknowledge high-quality lodgings only; look after the attractiveness of the areas that surround the houses; lower the bureaucratic burden that affects these houses; encourage touristic activities in the HT houses' surroundings.
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Rural Europe has been witnessing a process of irreversible change. The gradual loss of the economic value of agriculture and forestry, together with the scarce interest of the new generations in relation to agriculture determined that the residents in those areas and the governments had to find alternative sources of sustainable development for those territories (Tribe, Font, Griffiths, Vickery & Yale, 2000).

In the last thirty years, the Common Agriculture Policy has been one of the main promotors of the current configuration of the European rural landscape. Therefore, the policies based on the production of food were changed, to introduce others that contemplate distinctive functions such as the advocacy of scenic values or the valuation of the endogenous resources (Tirado-Ballesteros, Hérnandez-Hérnandez, 2018).

In fact, up until the 1960’s, accommodation in rural areas was scarce, but nevertheless it assured a small income supplement for a small number of farmers. However, from that decade onwards, rural tourism expanded very quickly, mainly in the Benelux countries, France and Italy, not only concerning the number of farmers who were promoting this activity, but also regarding the level of demand (Cánoves, Villarino, Priestley & Blanco, 2004).

In accordance with the previous context, in 1968 the European Comission implemented the Mansholt Plan, which advocated a restructuring of European rural areas trying to prevent their dependency regarding food production. Within this scope, rural tourism was regarded as a valid option in terms of economic restructuring of rural areas (Lane & Kastenholz, 2015). Through the functional diversification of the fields, the tourism industry would have the potential to retrain and regenerate low-density rural or mountain territories. The revenues and the jobs generated with the activity would increase the population’s life quality and ‘value the most relevant resources, namely the natural and cultural heritage’ (Carvalho, 2009/10, p. 188-189). This need of rural economies to diversify and restructure, lead, mainly in Europe, to the appearance of an accommodation offer in rural residences, quite often on a part time basis (Roberts & Hall, 2001). This heritage resources of historical nature were potential tourism products, allowing the visitor to get in touch with the history and the architecture of the time, as well as with the culture and the natural environment visible in low-density territories (Soares & Filho, 2008).

This way, the rural environment has been increasingly positioned as a representation place that pleases the urban population, thus converting it into consumption areas, which establish an appropriation of the landscape by the strategies of tourism marketing (Reis, 2012). Therefore, there is a mercantilization of the remaining elements of rurality (Eusébio, Carneiro, Kastenholz, Figueiredo & Silva, 2017).

However, tourism shouldn’t be perceived as a panacea for the economic and social deprivations that characterize low-density territories. Tourism is, above all, an instrument of economic policy and it must be integrated on a wide range of strategies, in order to contribute to the development of rural areas. On the other hand, tourism is not an economic solution indicated to all the low-density territories, therefore the opportunity costs and the factors that sustain their competitive advantage will vary depending on the type of territory (Roberts & Hall, 2001).

In the last three decades, the Portuguese State and the European Union have conceded grants and low rate loans, with the aim of stimulating the restoration of manor houses that are declared ‘of public interest’ (Pereiro Pérez, 2009). In effect, from the 1980’s onwards, HT facilities have benefited from structural funds financed by EU programs such as FEDER, INTERREG and LEADER, intended to assure the requalification of the rural environment.

With the present study we intend to provide a critical analysis of the public sector action regarding the HT projects on the following fields:

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