Recommendatory text and suggestions for institutional regulations in rural tourism.
Agritourism started to spread in Greece in the mid-1980s, following the example of similar activities in other European countries such as Italy, Austria and France.
However, the concept of rural tourism prevailed in Greece, namely a kind of tourism related to rural areas and associated with village life and rural environment, rather than agritourism, typical in other European countries (France, Italy, etc.), which instead refers to tourism activities in farms associated with agricultural life.
After a first experimental stage of development without significant results, rural tourism experienced a second stage of evolution in the 1980s. During this period, agritourism infrastructures were set up by individuals, in particular by women, or realized by joint actions, such as by communities or municipalities.
Agricultural Associations, most of which were established on the base of various financial investment programmes, were randomly arranged approximately all over the country, with the largest concentration in tourist areas. These infrastructures were in most of the cases not consistent with the philosophy and the goals of rural tourism. Modern buildings came up, alien to the architectural heritage and to the local identity, impersonal services and facilities were supplied, disconnected from the local tradition and context.
This situation resulted in not clearly oriented agro-business activities. Consequently, each company set its own standards and norms, based on the entrepreneur's initiative, knowledge and experience on the subject, his/her personality, and financial situation. This kind of agritourism enterprises, did not succeed in highlighting the local characteristics of rural places, or in supporting and promoting the cultural heritage of the sites, by using local products. Therefore, it was unable to put itself up as an attractive product for the residents of large urban centres.
Yet, twenty years later, despite the absence of an institutional framework, the situation changed considerably. The implementation of European initiatives such as LEADER+ (2000-2006), the Integrated Rural Development Programmes (OPAAX) and other programmes, and the development of a business networking system led to a new kind of accommodation facilities in agricultural areas. However in this period, despite all the efforts to carry out several projects all over Greece, which took into account the specific cultural features of each region, the attempts to coordinate the activities through business networking and agreements did not turn out quality results as expected, except for a few cases. Consequently, the projects of converting the programmes into useful tools for the effective development and enhancement of all enterprises were not successful.
Therefore, the rural tourism entrepreneurs took their own initiative and organized and founded "AGROXENIA."
Agroxenia was established by individual investors and agritourism operators to coordinate the cooperation among the operators of agritourism enterprises, support the shared issue of agritourism and solve the problems of this field.
Agroxenia is a non-profit organization, which has partners and members.
Agroxenia partners are investors or entrepreneurs directly involved in rural tourism in Greece (e.g.: traditional hotels, hostels, b&b, restaurants, cafés, tourism companies, tour activities operators, traditional food and craftsmanship producers, etc.).
Agroxenia members are natural or legal persons who are interested in agritourism.
AGROXENIA sets among its goals:
- The creation of an institutional framework;
- The increase of the demand for agritourism;
- Coordinated operations for a collective action;
- Support to the members in tourism issues;
- The outline of specific Agritourism issues;
- The sharing of experiences among entrepreneurs;
- Support in documentation issues;
- The outline of certification standards;
- The publishing of printed information (leaflets, magazines, etc.);
- The development of a compliance assessment system for Agritourism standards as established by public authorities, with the participation of a joint committee of representatives of Agroxenia board and the Greek Agritourism Federation.
Moreover, Agroxenia makes a point of organizing promotional projects to attract visitors, especially nowadays that the economic crisis is getting more intense, even in our sector.
For this purpose a working group, is planning to organize joint operations between tourist agencies, both on the spot and online, in order to create a "Network of eco-tourism accommodations” in the country, to assess and promote the European standards among the tourism associations.
WHY AGRITOURISM AND NOT RURAL TOURISM
Agritourism is a form of sustainable tourism in rural areas, which aims at:
- Giving the visitor the chance of experiencing rural professions, local products, traditional cuisine, the culture, typical features and the everyday life of the local communities;
- Bringing visitors closer to nature, by organizing outdoor activities in which they can take part, be entertained and feel the joy of touring, discovering and learning;
- To stimulate the cultural and productive forces of the country, thus contributing to a environmentally sustainable social and economic development of rural areas.
Agritourism destination is:
Agritourism destinations are rural areas that include the following characteristics:
- They constitute a distinct geographic and/or administrative unit from the morphological and historical perspective, which do not include settlements over 3,000 inhabitants (the criterion is based on the settlement and not of the territorial extension of the region);
- The residents are mainly employed in activities in the primary sector (agriculture, livestock farming, and fishery);
- The area has been not affected by mass tourism (i.e. organized holidays) or in other non-friendly forms of tourism as defined by the competent national authorities. On the contrary, it provides examples of traditional settlements, with specific characteristics, and is significantly active in rural tourism.
A combination of activities, services and products which is directly or indirectly linked to the particular social, cultural agricultural, and environmental characteristics of the agritourism destination and highlights its specific features.
Agritourism businesses are:
Tourism firms and facilities, which operate in agritourism destination areas, whose activities blend with the natural and human environment of the region, and which provide at least one of the following services:
- Leisure activities;
- Exploration of nature;
- Environmental awareness and education;
- Introduction to the culture of the region, visits to historical sites and other attractions, participation in outdoor recreational activities;
- Acquaintance with traditional professions, agricultural production and farming methods and processes which have nowadays disappeared;
- Promotion of particular local agricultural products.
Agroturism enterprises should have the following functional forms in order to fulfil the specific criteria:
- Agritourism hostelling;
- Agrotourist restaurants;
- Agritourism leisure centres for the promotion of local cultural heritage;
- Showroom for agro- products;
- Travel agencies, providers and organizers of outdoor programmes and activities for ecotourism.
From 1997 until today several working groups have been organized with the participation of several officials and representatives from the wider field of tourism.
SUGGESTIONS FOR INSTITUTIONAL REGULATIONS
These suggestions aim at encouraging the entrepreneurship in rural tourism, releasing the creativity of the entrepreneurs, while suggesting specific regulations to determine the conditions guiding the lawful carry out of certain activities, such as the production, the processing and the distribution of typical local products, the supply of tours and farm activities, etc.
IdentifIcation of the potential Rural Business
According to the current legal framework, the companies operating in the field of tourism (accommodation, restaurants, cafés, visit-farms) may have a first stage of production and/or process it, only if they are provided with operational facilities, an independent processing unit and/or business premises.
The Agritourim Enterprise should have instead, a single licence for the above mentioned activities, without requesting multiple licences or requirements, which are not adequate to the scope and size of the activities.
A. Agritourism Hostel
Agroxenia proposed a new functional form to identify accommodation facilities which operate in the countryside. Key features of this format will be:
- Settlements or municipal districts with fewer than 3000 residents;
- If the accommodation facility belongs an area with more than 3000 residents, it will be outside the city zone and will be labelled as traditional or listed;
- The small accommodation capacity (up to 40 beds);
- The harmonization with local architectural standards;
- The offer of breakfast/meals made exclusively with local products;
- The distribution of information materials about tourism resources and the related enterprises in the area;
- The ability to communicate with guests in at least one foreign language;
- Mandatory involvement and presence of the owner in the business;
- The owners are mainly farmers, either as a unit or as a synergy ;
- To be considered fit for agritourism activities, the accommodation facility must include at least one of the below described business activities (B, C, D, E and F).
Any accommodation classified in one of the existing functional forms of tourist accommodation (e.g. hotels, tourist apartments, villas, etc.) and meets the above conditions, can be considered as a Agritourism enterprise.
B. Traditional taverns, cafés
This kind of activity will create new flexible functional forms of facilities, suited to the features and service requirements for rural tourism:
- The activity of these enterprises is characterized by the availability of local products and by the use of traditional techniques and recipes;
- To be considered as an agritourism enterprise, the facility must include at least one of the following business activities among A, C, D, E, and F;
- The entrepreneurs must be mainly farmers committed to rural activities, either as a unit or as synergy;
- Enterprises operating in licensed restaurants, bars, cafe, etc., can be integrated into agritourism businesses if they meet the above conditions.
C. Units for processing agricultural products
This kind of small-scale enterprises are engaged in processing agricultural and livestock products and operate as follows:
- Self-made bread and pastries;
- They process fruits and vegetables (jams, pickles etc.) in order to make them available for their customers;
- They possess and/or process animal products (cheese, eggs, honey, meat, sausages, etc.) for their customers;
- They must retail these products only in the premises of the enterprise and trade them also wholesale anywhere in Greece and abroad. The products that process and sell the above entities must come from local production;
- The entrepreneurs must be mainly farmers committed to rural activities, either as a unit or as a synergy;
- The respect of the hygiene and safety rules, as determined by the competent bodies;
- To be considered fit for agritourism operations, the facility must include at least one of the business activity among A, B, D, E, and F.
D. Local products
This kind of companies retail local produce and crafts. The other agritourism activities can engage in this activity provided that the sale take place within the facility premises.
- The entrepreneurs must be mainly farmers committed to rural activities, either as a unit or as synergy;
- To be considered fit for agritourism activities, the facility must include at least one of the following business activity among A, B, C, E, and F.
This kind of farms are open to visitors, sell products to their guests and inform them about the production methods in use.
- The farmers rear and/or look after a limited number of animals within the premises of the farm (the number is related to the dimensions of the facilities) for the production and distribution of products;
- Visitors can have a choice among many products from the farm itself and the local produce, provided that the sale take place within the farm facilities;
- The farmers provide their guests with information, education and entertainment (e.g. about horses, birds, etc.);
- Given the limited number of animals, the facilities must be kept updated with sanitary standards as determined by the competent bodies, and ensure the safety of visitors;
- To be considered fit for agritourism activities, the facility must include at least one of the business activity among A, B, C, E, and F.
F. Agritourism Activities
This kind of operators organize tours and/or outdoor activities like horseback riding, hiking, rafting etc.
- A specially trained professional organizes and manages such activities as a self-employment;
- The operator offers the opportunity of tours with private or hired vehicles in the surrounding areas within the services provided by the company;
- Agritourism enterprises also provide visitors with courses related to the filed of their activity (e.g. traditional crafts techniques, culture, traditional gastronomy, etc.);
- To be considered fit for agritourism operations the company must include at least one of the business activities among A, B, C, D, and E;
- The operators must be mainly farmers committed to rural activities, either as a unit or as synergy.
A company which wish to join the measures and actions of the Rural Development 2007-2013 initiative, concerning the enhancement of tourism in the countryside, will have to meet the terms and conditions for a “Tourism Development Enterprise” at the completion of the subsidized project.
The legislation contained herein applies only to those companies which are qualified as Agritourism Businesses.
These firms are characterized by low accommodation capacity and functional facilities which are consistent with the principles of environmental protection and sustainable development.
Companies which do not meet the requirements to be classified as Agritourism businesses, but wish to take in Agritourism activities, will have two years time to adjust to the standards of the regulations.
On behalf of SEAGE
Nikos Frantzeskakis (President)
Costas Pappas (Secretary)
On behalf of AGROXENIA
Panagis Metaxatos (President )
Theodoros Vasileiou (General Secretary)
Agritourism Union of Crete
Corinna Miliaraki (President)
Maria Kampourakis (Secretary)
Agritourism Union of Peloponnese
Panos Poulos (President)
Agritourism Union of Central Macedonia
Giannis Reklos (Representative)
Tasos Papadopoulos (Representative)
Agritourism Union of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace
Androniki Dislia (President)
Emmanuil Hadjipanayiotou (Secretary)
Agritourism Union of Western Macedonia
Theodoros Vassileiou (President)
Anthimos Tortokas (Secretary)
Agritourism Union of Epirus
Stavroula Karavassili (President)
Costas Pappas (Secretary)
Agritorism Union of Chios
Kiki Chatzantonaki (Representative)
Jenny Lagou (Representative)
Agritorism Union of Ionian Islands
Panagis Metaxatos (President)
Dimitris Therianos (Secretary)
Agritourism Association of Central Greece:
Dimitra Dimitrakopoulou (Representative)
Giannis Tsitouras (Representative)
Public Relations Manager SEAGE
Tel. 6974 920998