National Strategies for Rural Tourism Development and Sustainability: The Polish Experience

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1 National Strategies for Rural Tourism Development and Sustainability: The Polish Experience Marcjanna Augustyn Luton Business School, University of Luton, Park Square, Luton, Beds LU1 3JU The need for the economic revival of rural areas, combined with the growing emphasis on sustainability, has created a new challenge for tourism as a potential means of achieving these two political goals simultaneously. The development of sustainable rural tourism has become a priority of national tourism policies and/or strategies in many countries. This paper evaluates whether national strategies for rural tourism development lead to sustainability. To achieve this goal, the case study approach is utilised, with the Polish National Strategy for Rural Tourism Development constituting the subject of the case. Inskeep s model Action Strategy for Sustainable Tourism Development provides the framework for the evaluation of the Polish strategy. Features of the Polish strategy that may lead to and/or constitute obstacles to sustainability are identified. Against the background of this example, future issues related to the process of sustainable rural tourism development in comparable countries are addressed. Introduction Structural changes in the global economy have resulted in the diminishing role of agriculture and forestry within rural areas. Finding new ways of economic revival in the countryside has become a challenge of the 1980s and 1990s. The widely recognised economic benefits of tourism, combined with increasing tourism demand and strong promotion of rural tourism by international tourism organisations, have encouraged many rural areas to invest in tourism. The countryside has become the destination for a growing clientele who search for unspoilt surroundings and authenticity (OECD, 1994: 14). At one extreme, these trends have created an opportunity for those living in rural areas to produce and market quality products that can attract visitors and bring about the potential benefits associated with rural tourism development (OECD, 1990; OECD, 1994: 25 31). At the other extreme, it has quickly become clear that uncontrolled rural tourism development also produces adverse environmental and social impacts that constitute a serious threat for the countryside. The need for the employment of appropriate development policies and management strategies leading to sustainable rural tourism has been emphasised. National governments in various countries adopt different approaches to ensuring that tourism is being developed in a sustainable manner. These approaches can be broadly classified into two groups, according to the level of government intervention into the economic processes of a country. In states with a lower level of government intervention (e.g. UK) the development of sustainable rural tourism has become a priority of national tourism policies. Consequently, national guidelines relating to such developments have been established to provide a framework for future sustainable rural /98/ $10.00/ M. Augustyn JOURNAL OF SUSTAINABLE TOURISM Vol. 6, No. 3,

2 192 Journal of Sustainable Tourism tourism development. In the UK, these considerations have been reflected in new tourism planning rules, issued in November 1992, which are known as Planning Policy Guidance Note 21, Tourism. These guidelines emphasised the importance of sensitive design for tourism developments, regardless of the scale of these developments. Also, the UK Department for National Heritage, together with the Rural Development Commission, the Countryside Commission and the English Tourist Board, has commissioned a good practice guide for sustainable rural tourism which was published in 1995 (Department of the Environment, 1995: 55 56). In democracies with a higher level of government intervention (e.g. Spain, Poland), national governments undertake a more active role in ensuring that tourism is developed in a sustainable manner. Apart from establishing policy guidelines, separate national strategies for rural tourism development have been formulated with the major goal of sustainability. In Spain, for example, a comprehensive strategy for sustainable tourism development, which is known as Plan FUTURES, was elaborated jointly by the Spanish Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism and the Autonomous Regional Governments in As a result, the tourism demand has begun to shift from congested coastal areas to more isolated, inland, rural areas (Vera & Rippin, 1996). The question can, however, be raised, whether the national strategies for rural tourism development actually lead to sustainability within these areas. To answer this question, the case study approach is utilised, with the Polish National Strategy for Rural Tourism Development constituting the focus of the case. Poland has been chosen for this analysis, since with the political and economic changes of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the role of tourism has also changed substantially. Unlike earlier decades, this industry is now perceived as an important factor in Poland s economic development and a means of achieving sustainability. The process of formulating national tourism policy and development strategies has started only recently, with the assistance of international tourism experts who use their knowledge and experience to address the issue of sustainable tourism development. Poland provides, therefore, an interesting example for analysing the level to which the theoretical concepts of sustainable tourism development have been applied into rural tourism development and management practice. In the process of data collection for this study, primary and secondary sources have been utilised. A number of interviews were carried out with representatives of the Polish State Sport and Tourism Administration (UKFiT) at the time when the national strategy for rural tourism development was being formulated ( ). The information on further developments within this domain is derived from documents and reports published by UKFiT and the Foundation for Tourism Development TOURIN (UKFiT publications are referred to from here on as UKFiT; TOURIN publications are referred to as RT and BIT). Descriptive techniques are utilised for presenting the process leading to the formulation and implementation of the Polish national strategy for rural tourism development. In order to evaluate whether or not these strategies contribute to sustainable rural tourism development, the data presented in the descriptive study are interpreted in relation to Inskeep s (1991: ) model Action

3 Polish Strategy for Sustainable Rural Tourism 193 Strategy for Sustainable Tourism Development. This model has been chosen as a framework for evaluation since it is considered to be an example of the latest and most comprehensive understanding of sustainable tourism (Clarke, 1997: 229) and seems to be the most suitable for the purpose of this article. Features of the Polish strategy that may lead to and/or constitute obstacles to sustainability are also identified. Against the background of this example and a brief comparison with experiences of other countries, future issues related to the process of sustainable rural tourism development in Poland and comparable countries are discussed. Case Study Background Polish rural areas account for almost 60% of the overall 312,677 km 2 of Poland s area and contain approximately 38% of the overall 38.5 million people living in Poland (GUS, 1995). During the post-war period of the command economy, agriculture constituted the major source of income for the rural population. Unlike other countries under Soviet influence, Polish agriculture had never been fully collectivised before the process of transition to a market economy that started in About 75% of farmland belonged to the private sector. The private farms were, however, small (6.3 ha on average) and dependant upon additional income from off-farm work in neighbouring towns and other non-farm sources (Frenkel, 1997). Since tourism was perceived as a social rather than economic activity at that time, it was not considered an alternative source of employment and income for the local population. Rural tourism was mainly associated with visiting friends and relatives rather than a commercial activity. For nearly a decade, Poland has been undergoing radical economic change. The reforms that have been carried out since 1989 have affected practically every aspect of the Polish economy. The process of structural change resulted in a deep recession that Poland experienced at the beginning of the 1990s. In 1990, the GDP dropped by 15%, the rate of unemployment increased by 6.1% and the rate of inflation achieved a record level of 585% (OECD, 1991). Due to its structure and size, the agricultural sector has been the hardest hit by the negative trends associated with the structural changes of the transition period. Many off-farm jobs were lost by members of private farms during the first years of the process. Many state farms, that accounted for about 20% of Polish farmland and were concentrated in a few areas, went bankrupt or dismissed some of their employees. As a result, the highest levels of unemployment (approximately 25 30%) have been recorded within these areas (Frenkel, 1997). The high rate of inflation and a gradual withdrawal of subsidies for farm products also made the Polish agriculture sector uncompetitive in the global and national markets. As a result, the rural population experienced a severe decrease of income and a sharp decline in their standard of living. Although the Polish economy has greatly improved since 1993, with an annual increase in GDP at a rate of 5 6% per year, a substantial decrease in the inflation rate (to approximately 21% in 1996) and a gradual drop in the unemployment rate, the economic situation of the rural areas is nevertheless weak. The rate of unemployment in rural areas is still very high, wages of farmers are low and their standard of living declined by 30% in 1994 alone (GUS, 1995). The effects of the

4 194 Journal of Sustainable Tourism transformation process, combined with changes in the agrarian structure of Polish agriculture, are still severe within rural areas. Finding alternative sources of income has become a major challenge for most Polish farmers and a key political issue. The low level of economic development of rural areas encouraged various bodies at the national, regional and local levels to search for a new vision of how to transform and revive these areas. This coincided with a general appreciation of the economic benefits of tourism development by many public bodies in Poland. Stimulation of tourism in rural areas has been seen as a new opportunity for the economic revival of these areas and as a new task for the national government (Owsiak & Sewerniak, 1994). Polish National Strategy for Rural Tourism Development The process of formulating a national strategy for rural tourism development in Poland that is currently being implemented evolved from the early studies which incorporated the development of rural tourism within the framework of other strategies to the point where rural tourism was distinguished as one of five Polish tourism brand products. The process, lasting for seven years ( ), consisted of three main phases: the Irish Report, TOURIN 1 and TOURIN 2. These stages relate to international aid programmes for Poland that have had a major influence on the shape of the current strategy for rural tourism development. The Irish Report A research project on tourism in Poland, financed by the Irish government as part of their aid programme for Poland, was carried out in 1991 by an Irish independent consultancy Tourism Development International (EIU, 1992: 70). It constituted a significant change in attitude towards the role of this sector in the Polish economy. Since then, tourism has been perceived as an important factor in the economic development of Poland, especially in rural areas. Consequently, a number of initiatives were undertaken with the purpose of encouraging the development of rural tourism, understood as all forms of tourism that provide additional sources of income for small farms and enterprises operating within the countryside, which offer accommodation and/or support tourism services. The first steps towards rural tourism development were undertaken by the Polish State Sport and Tourism Administration (UKFiT) in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture. In the early 1990s, Centres for Agricultural Counselling were established in some rural regions, which played an advisory role for those farmers who were looking for additional sources of income. They chose 500 farms suitable for, and interested in, offering rural tourism services and provided them with training and support in designing promotional material (Denman & Koscak, 1993: 4). Simultaneously, local agritourism associations were created by farmers in a number of Polish villages, with the main purpose of supporting the activities of their members. Although these associations played a minor role in the process of rural tourism development at that time, they did initiate work aimed at the establishment of a national agritourism association. During the early stages of rural tourism development, the Polish State Sport and Tourism Administration (UKFiT) also commissioned research aimed at identifying barriers to rural tourism development (BIT, 1993b). The need for

5 Polish Strategy for Sustainable Rural Tourism 195 harmonisation of the objectives and coordination of actions aimed at achieving sustainable rural tourism development was identified as the key future issue (Denman and Koscak, 1993; Owsiak & Sewerniak, 1994). Under these circumstances, the government represented by UKFiT assumed a more active role in stimulating and coordinating the development of sustainable tourism, and rural tourism in particular. A report on the Polish tourism industry and its future direction, with rural tourism identified as one of the priority forms of tourism, was prepared by the Polish State Sport and Tourism Administration and presented to Poland s Council of Ministers in TOURIN 1 The importance of tourism development for Poland s economy, and rural tourism development in particular, was also reflected in the funds granted for this purpose by the Commission of the European Communities. Within the framework of the EC PHARE programme, which aimed at assistance for economic restructuring in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe (EC, 1992), Poland was allocated ECU 4.5 million in 1992 for a tourism development programme called TOURIN 1. The Polish State Sport and Tourism Administration (UKFiT) was assigned the task of administering the programme. To this end, UKFiT established an official Programme Management Unit (PMU) in March 1993, which included a number of short-term and long-term EU and Polish tourism experts (BIT, 1993a). The task of administering and managing the Programme was later assigned to the newly formed (in December 1993) Foundation for Tourism Development (TOURIN) that was set up by the European Union and the Polish State Sport and Tourism Administration (BIT, 1994b).This change meant greater involvement for the Polish State Sport and Tourism Administration s representatives in the management and control of the Programme. The identification of problems that were to be solved within the TOURIN 1 Programme by a series of half-yearly projects was the first task of the Programme Management Unit. Resources for projects costing more than ECU 10,000 were allocated by tender with the participation of at least three companies and, in the case of projects exceeding the level of ECU 100,000, the tenders were to originate from the EC-based companies (BIT, 1993c). Within the framework of the TOURIN 1 programme, four projects were completed (BIT, 1994a) and the issue of rural tourism development was handled within each of the four projects, as described below. Counselling and organisational support This project included preparation of expert reports on the present situation within various sectors of tourism in Poland. In relation to rural tourism, work started in May Two experts (from the UK and Slovenia) were invited to analyse the situation within this sector. They focused on such issues as marketing, structural development, and privatisation. The emphasis was placed on environmental problems in relation to farm tourism development. The results of this study were published in a report called Agritourism: Opportunities and Threats (Denman & Koscak, 1993). The major strengths identified by the experts included a high level of specialist

6 196 Journal of Sustainable Tourism knowledge and awareness of issues related to the importance of rural tourism development among representatives of the relevant institutions. Well organised support services for the development of rural tourism, offered by the Centres for Agricultural Counselling, constituted another strength. Diversification of natural attractions, rural landscape, interesting architecture, methods of running farms and traditional skills (e.g. cooking, handicrafts, fishing, knowledge of local traditions) were perceived as factors contributing to the rural atmosphere. Well maintained interiors of farms were identified as additional strength of Polish rural areas. Weaknesses related mainly to the lack of investment capital for the upgrading of rural facilities in order to meet customers needs. In some rural areas the architecture was assessed as being too modern and not attractive to potential customers. It was also stressed that some villages lacked the appropriate technical infrastructure (e.g. roads, telecommunications) and farmers lacked knowledge on how to manage or market their farms to attract tourists. Limited entrepreneurial experience, lack of community involvement, cooperation and coordination of actions at the earlier stages of rural tourism development, as well as underdeveloped information services within rural areas, were also identified as weaknesses (Denman & Koscak, 1993: 6). A growing international demand for rural tourism was perceived as a major opportunity for further development of this sector in Poland. Other opportunities resulted from previous work on rural tourism development in Poland. The planned establishment of the Polish Agritourism Association was perceived as a key opportunity for better coordination. Furthermore, international aid, in terms of providing funds for training, consultancy and the formulation of a comprehensive national strategy for rural tourism development, were also considered to be opportunities. Too much enthusiasm on the part of farmers in developing tourism products constituted the major threat for rural tourism development, a situation that could result in oversupply and poor performance within those rural areas that had opted for tourism development. The problem seemed to be even more acute in view of the fact that domestic demand for this form of tourism was also diminishing due to the high prices for a holiday product provided by rural areas at home, when compared with similar offerings abroad. The profitability of rural tourism products was also reduced by unfavourable tax regulations. Another threat was seen in the lack of social awareness about the environmental problems associated with tourism development and insufficient control mechanisms. This could result in environmental degradation. The social threats recognised in other countries were also true in the case of Poland (Denman & Koscak, 1993: 6). The authors of the report concluded that tourism could, however, become a factor of economic development and lead to the improvement of living standards within rural areas. Due to their attractiveness, Polish rural areas could become tourist destinations for domestic and international tourists. To achieve this goal, the need for government support for local communities and local administration in the process of sustainable rural tourism development was emphasised (BIT, 1995a). Within the framework of the Counselling and organisational support project,

7 Polish Strategy for Sustainable Rural Tourism 197 advisory services were also offered by EU tourism experts aimed at assisting the government in preparation of tourism-related documents. Emphasis was placed on ensuring that the interests of rural tourism were included in these documents (BIT, 1994a). As a result, the first government statement on national tourism policy was formulated and accepted by Parliament in Since then, tourism has been officially treated as an essential component of the national economy. The goals of national tourism policy are consistent with the overall goals of national economic policy and include economic growth, macroeconomic stabilisation and reduction of unemployment. The development of rural tourism received a priority in this policy due to its stimulating role in rural development. Environmental concerns associated with tourism development, as well as the need for horizontal (between various government departments at the national level) and vertical (between the national, regional and local administrative levels) coordination and cooperation as means of achieving the goal of sustainable tourism development, were also included in this document (UKFiT, 1994b). They, however, received less attention than the economic goals. Development of the Polish tourism product A report entitled A strategy for the Polish Tourism Product Development for was the major outcome of the TOURIN 1 project dealing with the development of the Polish tourism product. The strategy was formulated by a Brussels-based international consultancy firm Arthur D. Little (1994). Five Polish tourism products were chosen for future development, with rural tourism and activity tourism in rural areas featuring prominently. The establishment of a central body, named the Strategic Tourist Unit (STU), was suggested in order to enable the implementation of the strategy in relation to each of the five products. Identification of legal, fiscal and financial barriers to the development of these products was suggested as one of the tasks of the STU. The establishment of a system of Polish Tourism Brand Products, with brand managers appointed in order to coordinate the actions associated with each of the brand products, was also recommended. Marketing and promotion of national tourism products Promotion of rural tourism constituted a part of the overall project that aimed at designing new concepts for the marketing of Polish tourism abroad. The concept of branding, suggested in the strategy formulated by Arthur D. Little (1994), was to be utilised for promotional efforts. Rural tourism and activity tourism in rural areas were to become two of the five brand names. As a part of this project, a logo for the five brand products was designed. Training and professional education Within the framework of this project, a series of seminars and workshops, led by tourism experts from EU countries, was organised in five macro-regions of Poland (BIT, 1994a). Due to the importance of rural tourism development, representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture, regional and local authorities, as well as the providers of tourism services, were invited to these seminars. The roles of the public and private sectors in rural tourism development were identified in relation to four out of the five macro-regions (BIT, 1993d). Training was identified as bringing the most immediate positive effects of the

8 198 Journal of Sustainable Tourism TOURIN 1 programme. As one of the results of these seminars, five co-operative agreements were signed by representatives of the regional authorities. Rural tourism development was one of the issues that was to be tackled within the framework of these agreements. TOURIN 2 The work related to the development of rural tourism and formulation of a consistent strategy for this sector achieved its climax within the framework of the TOURIN 2 programme. The commission of the European Communities supported the programme to the amount of ECU 8 million (BIT, 1994c). The development of rural tourism constituted one of the major objectives included in the financial memorandum of the programme, and ECU 3.3 million was assigned for this purpose (BIT, 1993e). The programme commenced in 1994 and was completed in Three broad projects were carried out in order to achieve the objective of rural tourism development: (1) the preparation of a general plan for the development and promotion of rural tourism, (2) the development of accommodation units in rural areas, and (3) the development of activity tourism in rural areas (BIT, 1994c). These three projects were consistent with the goals and recommendations included in A Strategy for the Polish Tourism Product Development for that was formulated within the framework of the TOURIN 1 programme by Arthur D. Little (1994). The strategy was, however, amended as a part of the TOURIN 2 programme, by the L&R Consulting and Austrian Tourism Consultants. It was accepted by the Polish government for implementation in 1996 (RT, 1997a). The major idea related to the concept of Polish Tourism Brand Products, including rural tourism and activity tourism in rural areas was maintained within the new strategy to be implemented by General plan for the development and promotion of rural tourism Based upon the objectives of the overall strategy for the Polish tourism product development, five-year strategic plans for rural tourism development and its promotion were formulated (BIT, 1995a). The five-year strategic plan for rural tourism development was prepared by an Irish consultancy firm, Tourism Development International, in cooperation with International Development Ireland Ltd and an Austrian consultancy firm, Kohl & Partners. The strategy for rural tourism development was based upon the results of a SWOT analysis carried out prior to its formulation. Areas of research included the analysis of rural physical, financial and human resources, the organisational structure of rural tourism at three levels (national, regional and local) and the existing actions related to rural tourism marketing. Four growth areas of rural tourism were identified: (1) countryside and national parks, (2) rural heritage, (3) activity tourism within rural areas, and (4) rural culture, including agritourism and traditional events. The strategy presents a vision for future rural tourism development, defines the target markets, business goals and development priorities. The action plan for the implementation of the strategy was also formulated, with an emphasis on time and funding constraints, training and marketing actions and changes in organisational structure (BIT, 1996). In 1996 and 1997 pilot action projects were implemented, which resulted in:

9 Polish Strategy for Sustainable Rural Tourism 199 the establishment of two model rural tourism resorts near Kielce (southern Poland); the establishment of a pilot rural tourism information network with eight rural tourism information offices opened at the seaside (northwest Poland); the formulation of a detailed Regional Action Plan for northeast Poland; the formulation of a detailed training strategy for rural tourism, and the establishment of the Polish Federation of Rural Tourism (RT, 1997c). A five-year strategic plan for the promotion of rural tourism was also drawn up. It included an analysis of the competitiveness of Polish rural tourism, identified target markets and formulated a marketing-mix strategy for Polish rural tourism (BIT, 1995a). As part of this project, eight professional handbooks were published in order to assist the providers of tourism products in rural areas. These handbooks covered the following issues: marketing, management, customer care, training, financial and legal regulations in rural tourism (RT, 1997c). Development of accommodation units in rural areas Within the framework of this project, a strategy for the development and marketing of rural tourism accommodation was formulated by a consortium of DG Agroprogress International GmbH from Bonn/Frankfurt, Germany, and the Centre for Agricultural Counselling and Education in Krakow. The strategy was based on the results of an analysis of rural tourism accommodation in Poland and a review of best European practices. As a result, categorisation and control schemes for rural accommodation units and visitor attractions were designed. They conform to the Polish national classification and categorisation system but, at the same time, take into consideration specific features of rural accommodation units. The categorisation system of rural tourism accommodation units assumes voluntary participation of the operators. A special training for future inspectors of rural accommodation units was organised, with the participation of nearly 100 candidates. Necessary legislative measures for the implementation of these schemes were also identified (BIT, 1995a). As part of this project, a system of economic and financial counselling was designed. Additionally, training for those directly (operators) and indirectly (representatives of national and local administration) involved in the development and provision of rural tourism accommodation was organised. Four pilot projects relating to the development of rural tourism accommodation were implemented. They resulted in: the establishment of a model rural tourism resort for handicapped tourists near Suwalki (northeast Poland); the establishment of a training centre for the providers of rural tourism accommodation near Suwalki (northeast Poland); the development of rural accommodation for tourists with special interests ( green school ) near Bialystok (northeast Poland); a model rural cultural heritage village in Swolowo near Slupsk (northwest Poland) (RT, 1997c). The project also resulted in the establishment of the Polish Federation of Rural Tourism, uniting local agritourism associations from all over the country. The aim of this organisation was to support and coordinate the activities of small

10 200 Journal of Sustainable Tourism businesses operating in rural areas. In April 1997, the Federation became a member of the European Federation of Rural Tourism Associations (EUROGITES). Training sessions on how to formulate business and marketing plans were provided for the members of agritourism associations (RT, 1997c). Development of activity tourism in rural areas This project was run by the British L&R Consulting Company and focused on the formulation of a strategy for the development and marketing of activity tourism in rural areas. The strategy was based on an analysis of existing activity tourism in Poland. Five forms of activity tourism in rural areas were identified as having potential for further development: horse-riding, water sports, walking, relaxation in nature and learning about rural life. Model training sessions were organised in 1997 for staff employed within these areas and dealt with the marketing of activity tourism and the training needs of instructors. Ten pilot projects were implemented within the five forms of activity rural tourism and covered the most important geographical areas of rural tourism development in Poland (RT, 1997c). In relation to the promotion of activity tourism in rural areas, three different information systems were proposed: (1) the creation of a calendar of activity tourism events, (2) the publication of guide books and information booklets for those who wanted to organise activity tourism holidays on their own, and (3) the production of a magazine on activity tourism (BIT, 1995b). Outcomes Provision of the institutional and strategic frameworks for future rural tourism development in Poland was seen as the major outcome of the TOURIN programmes. A number of public institutions and non-profit organisations were involved in the process, namely the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the General Directorate of Forestry, regional administrative units, the Polish Agency of Tourism Promotion, the Polish Federation of Camping and Caravanning, the Institute for Ecodevelopment, the Polish Federation of Rural Tourism, the Polish Horse-Riding Association and the Polish Touring Association (RT, 1997c). Apart from the work aimed at developing a national strategy for rural tourism development, legislative measures aimed at creating appropriate conditions for rural tourism development and effective implementation of the strategy were undertaken. These measures related to the amendment of the Act of Environmental Protection and the tax law. Fiscal incentives were introduced for the providers of accommodation in rural areas. A new Act on Tourism Services, in which basic standards for accommodation units were identified, was enforced in 1996 (UKFiT, 1994a). The process of implementation of strategies for rural tourism development is now coordinated by two brand managers identified in the Strategy for the Polish Tourism Product Development, i.e. the brand manager for the rural tourism product and the brand manager for the activity tourism in rural areas product. Their efforts focus on identifying rural tourism areas suitable for further development of the products (according to the guidelines of the strategy for rural tourism development), counselling at the stage of their improvement and

11 Polish Strategy for Sustainable Rural Tourism 201 assistance in promoting these products. Within these chosen areas, partner groups are being created, with the participation of representatives from leading tourism and transport enterprises in the area, along with local authorities. It is expected that competitive rural tourism products will be launched in the international market as a result of these efforts (RT, 1997b; RT, 1997d). Contribution of Polish Strategies for Rural Tourism Development to Sustainability: An Evaluation Ever since the concept of sustainabilty came to prominence, various approaches to sustainable tourism have been adopted. Depending on the particular purposes and interests, these approaches range from focusing on individual, e.g. environmental, social and economic sustainability (e.g. Aronsson, 1994: 89; Coccossis, 1996: 8 9; Crouch, 1994, Scace, 1993; Woodley, 1993), or combined types of sustainability, such as ecological and social sustainability (e.g. Butler, 1991; Goodall, 1995; Green & Hunter, 1992; Murphy, 1994), to an integrated approach that tackles all individual types of sustainability and requires strategic management of the overall development process (e.g. Aronsson, 1994: 90; Bramwell, 1991; Butler, 1993, Hunter, 1995; Inskeep, 1991; Lane, 1994). The concept of sustainable tourism is continuously evolving and the diversified approaches to sustainability result in a lack of universally accepted indicators of sustainable tourism development. What constitutes the best sustainable practice for economists may not prove to be true in terms of environmental or social sustainability. Therefore, in order to undertake a holistic assessment of the Polish national strategy, a comprehensive model of sustainable tourism development needs to be utilised. Such a model has to look into all aspects of sustainable tourism development (i.e. environmental, economic, social, cultural and political sustainability). Moreover, since the article aims at evaluating the national strategies, this set of assessment criteria has to refer to strategic aspects of sustainable tourism development. Considering the above assumptions, Inskeep s (1991: ) model Action Strategy for Sustainable Tourism Development seems to be the most appropriate for interpretation and evaluation of the data presented in the study on Polish national strategies for rural tourism development. The value of this model for the purpose of this article is strengthened by the fact that it is actually a representation of the draft Action Strategy for Sustainable Development prepared by the Tourism Stream Action Strategy Committee of the Globe 90 conference on sustainable development that was held in Vancouver in March The Committee included representatives from the tourism industry, government international agencies, non-government organisations and academics from different countries. Thus the multisectoral and international expertise brought together in formulating the draft strategy seems to have constituted a strong base for Inskeep s model, which takes into account the interest of various players in the tourism industry. According to Inskeep (1991: ), sustainable tourism development aims at protecting and enhancing the environment, meeting basic human needs, promoting current and intergenerational equity and improving the quality of life of all peoples. It focuses on the management of all resources in such a way that economic, social and aesthetic needs are met, while cultural integrity, essential

12 202 Journal of Sustainable Tourism ecological processes, biological diversity and life support systems are maintained. Drawing upon Inskeep s (1991: ) model Action Strategy for Sustainable Tourism Development, two groups of characteristics of the Polish strategy for rural tourism development can be identified, i.e. positive features that may lead to sustainability and negative features that may create obstacles to sustainability. The first group of characteristics relates to those elements of the strategy that comply with the requirements of Inskeep s model and may thus lead to sustainability. These include: the involvement of, and collaboration with, national institutions responsible for environmental protection in the process of formulating the strategy; the identification of tourism activities within rural areas that preserve their environmental and cultural heritage; support for lower levels of government to develop their own development strategies consistent with the national strategy; the inclusion of tourism in land use planning; the development of public consultation techniques in order to involve various stakeholders in making decisions related to rural tourism development. The second group of characteristics relates to other elements of Inskeep s model strategy for sustainable tourism that are missing in the Polish strategy, thus creating possible obstacles to sustainability. These include: lack of research into the environmental, cultural and economic effects of rural tourism development prior to the choice of areas where rural tourism is to be developed; lack of development of models for appropriate levels of tourism development in rural areas (e.g. carrying capacities) and sustainable economic indicators (e.g. sustainable income ); lack of standards and regulations for environmental and cultural impact assessment, monitoring and auditing of existing and proposed tourism development projects; lack of environmental accounting systems for rural tourism; lack of involvement of local communities and all providers of tourism services in making decisions related to rural tourism development; lack of representatives of indigenous populations on rural tourism advisory boards; lack of educational and awareness programmes which would sensitise people to the issues of sustainable rural tourism development (the emphasis is placed on the economic effects of rural tourism development). This analysis demonstrates that, although in some respects the Polish strategy for rural tourism development does comply with the requirements of a sustainable tourism strategy, the many serious drawbacks of the strategy may make it difficult, if not impossible, to achieve the goal of sustainability. Major developmental decisions were made at the national level without impact analyses having been conducted prior to the choice of areas for rural tourism development. Participation of local communities in the decision-making process,

13 Polish Strategy for Sustainable Rural Tourism 203 or due consideration of their interests, was also omitted. In fact, developmental decisions were imposed by the state on local communities, regardless of whether or not they wanted tourism to be developed within these areas. This was partly a result of the overall process of formulating the national strategy of rural tourism development in Poland, which was highly influenced by the support and experiences of western consultants. The expertise of foreign consultants is undoubtedly of great value for gaining a general overview of good and bad practice in the field of sustainable tourism development, on which any country can build its own approach to sustainable tourism development. There is, however, a danger of misusing, or overdepending upon, the services of foreign consultants, who have limited insight into the nature of the economic, social and political systems of the particular country. This seems to be the case in Poland. Although it was assumed that the consultants would play an advisory role to the Polish government agency responsible for tourism development, the reality proved to be quite different. The strategies formulated by foreign consultancy firms were intended to serve as guidelines for the future development of Polish national tourism strategy, which would take into consideration the experiences of other countries and the peculiar characteristics of the Polish environment. In practice, the draft strategies prepared by the foreign consultants were accepted for implementation by the Polish government without introducing any amendments that would reflect the uniqueness of the Polish macro- and microenvironments. Thus, the good practices from other countries could not always work properly under Poland s peculiar circumstances. What works well in one country, does not necessarily translate to another. The above statement can be evidenced by an example of applying the concept of branding in Poland, which derives from foreign experience. Although this concept works well in Austria s sustainable farm tourism development (Embacher, 1994), it does not look so promising in the case of Poland and leaves quite a lot of room for improvement. This is mainly due to many different circumstances under which this concept has been initiated and applied in both countries (Table 1). This table shows that Poland complies with only one criterion of the Austrian success in introducing the concept of branding. The majority of circumstances under which the concept of branding was introduced in Poland are completely different from the case of Austria, which may question the success of this concept in Poland. Unlike the Austrian case, the choice of rural areas that are to become the Polish brand rural tourism products is made at national level and based on the criterion of good or existing products, or underdeveloped, potentially interesting rural areas. On the national scale, the selective approach of brand managers towards the choice of rural tourism products and areas that are to be developed and promoted, places other rural areas that display the potential for tourism development at a disadvantage. Undermining the importance of these issues may result in conflicts between local communities and the state, especially when the villages or rural areas that are to become brand products have been chosen by the national administrative staff without prior consultation with the representatives of the overall rural population. This danger is strengthened by the fact that those villages that have been chosen for implementation of this

14 204 Journal of Sustainable Tourism Table 1 Differences and similarities in initiating and applying the concept of branding in rural* tourism development in Austria and Poland, against key criteria for success Criteria Austria Poland Differences Share of rural tourism in overall tourism activity Moderate Very low Stage of rural tourism destination development Tradition in providing rural tourism services Linking tourism with agriculture Initiative of introducing the concept of branding Forms of financing the concept Highly developed Long Important (supplementary activity) Local, private (bottom-to- top) Private member fees, public funds Similarities Size of rural tourism providers Small Small * The category farm tourism is used as a brand name in Austria. Developed and underdeveloped Short Unimportant (substitute) National, public (top-to-bottom) Public funds strategy will receive direct and indirect financial support for the development of their products from national and international public sources. When the first tangible positive effects of tourism development within the selected rural areas appear, the threat of political and social conflicts may be even greater. Another weakness of the concept of branding in Poland relates to the fact that currently the national developmental and promotional efforts are focused on a few small villages or rural areas. As is widely recognised, the influx of tourists to a small area and their saturation in peak seasons, may produce many negative environmental and social effects (Boo, 1992; Gajraj, 1989; Romeril, 1989; Wall, 1993) that, if not foreseen and managed at this stage of tourism development, may be irreversible in the longer term. The drawbacks of the Polish strategy, combined with a general lack of sustainable development awareness and practice among tourism businesses, local authorities and the indigenous population in particular, constitute serious threats for the future of sustainable rural tourism development in Poland. It is worth pointing out that some of these threats were already emphasised in the results of the first SWOT analysis of rural tourism, undertaken in 1993 (Denman & Koscak, 1993). Since then, instead of recording success in eliminating the threats and maximising the opportunities, new threats, resulting from the latest developments within this area, can be added to that list. After seven years of developing rural tourism in Poland, sustainability still remains more in the sphere of wishful thinking than in real actions that lead to sustainability. However, the Polish experience is assessed against a model of an ideal situation, which is probably difficult to be achieved not only by Poland but also by other countries. The literature review provides many examples of both

15 Polish Strategy for Sustainable Rural Tourism 205 good and bad practices in endeavours aimed at developing tourism in a sustainable manner, regardless of whether they were initiated by the national governments, local authorities or the private sector (Ballinger, 1996; Embacher, 1994; Greffe, 1994; Hanningan, 1994; Lane, 1994; Morris, 1996; Nicholls, 1996; Richez, 1996; Vera & Rippin, 1996). The outcomes of the Polish efforts aimed at achieving sustainable rural tourism development are quite similar to the Irish experience of developing sustainable tourism (Hannigan, 1994). In both cases, these attempts have been supported by European funds, which resulted in the involvement of national governments in the development of sustainable tourism. Quantitative (e.g. increase in visitor numbers), rather than qualitative (e.g. upmarket clientele) objectives predominated in both Irish and Polish national tourism policies. Looking at macroeconomic indicators, this focus has contributed to the general economic development of these countries but has left the goal of sustainability unachieved. In Poland, tourism has been growing at a very fast pace ever since the Polish government changed its attitude towards tourism and started to perceive tourism as a factor of economic development. Enforcement of legislation on lifting international barriers to travel in the early 1990s, combined with a low price level in Poland in the early 1990s, resulted in a sharp increase (from 8.0 million in 1989 and 49.0 million in 1992 to 87.8 million in 1997) in international arrivals to Poland (UKFiT, 1996; UKFiT, 1998). This increase placed Poland within the group of the WTO Top Ten Destinations and Poland occupied the ninth position in 1996 and the seventh position in 1997, according to preliminary estimates of WTO (UKFiT, 1998). However, in terms of revenue generated by inbound tourism, Poland was outside the group of WTO Top Tourism Earners and was ranked fourteenth in Although this position seems to be quite high, when compared with other European countries, Poland registered only moderate growth (3.9%) of foreign currency revenue in 1997 (UKFiT, 1998). Moreover, business tourism is by far the most popular form of international tourism to Poland. It is also very important to note that a great share of the inbound tourists are one-day trippers who visit the border cities and towns with the purpose of shopping, or people of Polish origin visiting their friends and relatives (UKFiT 1996; UKFiT, 1998). These forms of tourism are undoubtedly important for the overall national economy but they do not produce many benefits for the hospitality sector or operators of visitor attractions, especially in rural areas. In fact, it is estimated that three quarters of international tourists stay in cities for shopping or business purposes (UKFiT, 1998). Only 3% of the total 87.8 million visitors to Poland in 1997 spent their holiday in rural areas, or more precisely in the mountains of southern Poland (UKFiT, 1998). The above facts and figures indicate that Poland has achieved the quantitative goals of national tourism policy whereas the qualitative goals, which are important for sustainable tourism development, have not been attained and the ways of achieving them have to be rethought. The national strategy for rural tourism development has not contributed to sustainability so far and, in many areas, constitutes a serious obstacle to reaching this goal. The shortcomings of the strategy will, therefore, have to be addressed in the future, if rural tourism is to develop in a sustainable manner in the years to come.

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