Tourism development as a determinant of quality of life in rural areas
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Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to share information on how the advantages of tourism are both a result and a determinant of the quality of life in rural areas. Consequently, it is one of the main factors for sustainable development in the social context. Design/methodology/approach – Quantitative and qualitative research was undertaken of 36 villages that have been developing rural tourism for at least 20 years in Poland. In-depth interviews were conducted with destination management organizations (DMO) leaders and members of the local communities. Direct observation was used to gain an understanding of the realities in the field. Round table discussions with managers of rural tourism andmembersof the communities helped to perform the cost-benefit analysis of the development of rural tourism. This study was conducted between the years 2009 and 2014. Findings – This study monitored patterns and changes in residents’ quality of life and measured their perceptions of rural tourism. The findings showed that negligence and errors during the planning stage results in a negative opinion of tourism, leading to unfavorable effects on future development, causing intolerable material, financial and social costs. Three types of factors influencing tourism were identified: social and technical infrastructure, ecology and lifestyle. These findings are important for local policymakers and rural tourism business. Research limitations/implications – Readers need to remember that only clearly determined population was considered in the research and specific sampling settings; reference to other settings may have produced different results. The extent to which the findings can be generalized certainly requires further investigation. Practical implications – The development of rural tourism is considered a viable means to attract tourists to a destination and to enhance residents’ overall quality of life. However, the perception of tourism’s influence on the overall quality of life depended on internal marketing and proper communication. This study yielded interesting conclusions that have practical implications for DMO and tourism leaders who continually evaluate rural tourism initiatives. Social implications – The experience of 20 years in the Polish modern agrotourism industry represent a set of observations concerning both the improvement within the quality of life of rural residents, as well as the danger of social conflict, depending on the management tools and practices applied at rural tourist destinations. Negligence and errors during the planning stage may result in a negative opinion of tourism, leading to unfavorable effects on future development of tourism and causing intolerable material, financial and social costs. Originality/value – Although this study referred to communities living in Polish villages, the findings show that detailed planning and the DMO’s communication efforts resulted in positive opinions from local residents with regard to tourism, and helped to avoid high material, financial and social costs. The case studies from Poland offer a universal benchmark in managing rural tourism destinations and show the challenges that needed to be addressed for the development of sustainable rural tourist destinations.