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Rural milieu in the focus of tourism marketing.


Tourism is an activity with rapid evolution and importance for the development of every country, as it contributes significantly and terminally to the development of the incoming exchange, in the decrease of unemployment, and in the economic and social development of the life of each country's inhabitants. The role of Tourism is decisive in modern societies and lately it is considered as the main form of spending leisure time, human contacts and the creation of economic and cultural relations. (Michalko 2000).

This influence of tourism in various sectors has made necessary its division in several categories. This differentiation has brought about revolutionary changes in tourist growth in recent years and has prompted many investigators to do multiple researches about the forms, the importance and the different potentialities of each country to develop new types of tourism. The distinction between mass tourism and alternative, tourism led to a dynamic evolution, which may prove to be determinative for the development of tourist destinations.

Moreover rural communities as well as central and local governments were trying to find suitable development policies to upgrade regional economies since they realized that "agriculture has changed dramatically since the massive introduction of new technologies in the production process, commonly known as green revolution" (Leite and Radhakrishna 2002). Rural tourism is one of this policies but its development is facing problems with the marketing plan utilization.

Rural territories lost their original activity, the agriculture is the past, and there are only some places where we can meet authentic farmers. The base of sustainable development is not the agriculture; however, there is an effort to sustain the traditional rural environment (the rural atmosphere), an illusion for the outsiders. By creating an attractive rural tourist milieu, the originally agriculture-based rural environment may also be saved. If marketing communication suggests the values (beauties) of the rural life, then it creates a new base to save the rural milieu (what is consumed by tourists).

In this study, an attempt is made to present the importance of marketing as a strategic procedure contributing to rural tourism development and competitiveness. Beside that, we suggest to introduce the concept of rural milieu and its significance in marketing campaigns, in case a continuous feedback between marketing associations, destination image formation and the milieu perceived by visitors is developed.

Hypothesis about Rural Tourism

There is a small confusion about the definition of rural tourism since there are many kinds of tourism which can be called rural tourism like farm tourism which is defined by Clarke (1999) as a kind of rural tourism which is conducted on working environment forms as part of a product from the costumer perspective or village tourism which, creates its own particular attractions, organisations and facilities in order to attract tourists to the countryside. It requires co-operation, training, sound leadership and commitment from local people, very demanding requirements in a disintegrating local society (Kovacs 1997).

Perales (2002) tried to solve this definition problem and claimed that there are two types of rural tourism. The traditional one, which is based on farm accommodation and the modern type, where the visitors expect to make a much deeper and profitable use of the landscaping, environmental, natural and architectural recourses. In countries like Greece and Hungary there is much difference in how rural tourism is implemented, since in Greece the main provision of rural tourism product is bed and breakfast with accommodation in traditionally furnished rooms and with traditional breakfasts often based on home-made products (Michalko and Fotiadis 2006). Hungary is still in a primary stage and the most important form of rural tourism is tourism on family farms or village houses, where guests stay either with the farmer family or in a guest room, and they usually have the same dinner as the family has. That is why, in order to easement our research, we assume that all the types of tourism activity which are implemented in the agrarian territories, are one and the same thing and from now on, when we will refer to rural tourism we will be referring generally to all kinds of tourism in rural areas.

Marketing and Rural Tourism

Many researchers like Williams and Shaw (1998) suggested that tourism can play a significant role as a counteraction tool to the social and economic problems that rural areas face. That is why rural tourism enjoys varying degrees of state support (Gartner 2004, Hall and Jenkins 1998) since it is believed that it can be an engine of economic growth and development (Ratz and Puczko 1998). Rural tourism is not a panacea (Singouridis and Fotiadis 2005), since it seems to have not only positive but also negative consequences (Mason and Cheyne 2000, Johnson, Snepenger and Akis 1994).

The locals usually believe that during this fermentation there are some negative impacts but conclusively they do not reject rural tourism as a development tool for their area (Fotiadis 2006, Gitelson 1998, Jurowski 1998). Since there was evidence that tourism can contribute to rural revitalization (Cai 2002), the rural communities and entrepreneurs started to organize and develop themselves on a marketing level. And although the intention is good, there are many problems. Rural areas do not seem to have the funds to hire consulting firms to conduct feasibility studies (Formica and Mccleary 2003). There is a lack of tourism expertise, particularly in terms of networking (Beeton and Sue 2002) and most rural tourism business invest relatively little in marketing and related training (Lane 1994, Clarke 1999).

Marketing rural areas (or rural marketing) in the most cases is equal to tourism marketing. Products are rarely produced in a village, where as urban marketing does not focus on only tourist marketing. Rural marketing compared to urban one has usually more problems since in rural territories there is a seasonal demand, low level of per capita income, problems in product positioning and under development markets. In rural tourism, the "village" is mainly consumed by tourist, whereas the consumers of cities belong to wider variety of consumer segments. What rural tourists buy and consume is in fact the rural tourist milieu--for this reason marketing has to concentrate on the elements of this.

Simultaneously we notice that rural areas wanted and still want to follow the notion of our century about "satisfied loyalty costumers, who are revisiting the territories", but their limited drawing power drove the small rural communities to approach their marketing activities in creating some times an illusionary destination image.

Rural tourism enterprises tend to be small-scale and supply a highly seasonal market (Fleischer and Pizam 1997) and usually the entrepreneurs do not have marketing knowledge. That is why they usually do not comprehend concepts like "push and pull factors or relationship marketing".

Push and pull factors are concepts suggesting that people travel because they are pushed and pulled by some sorts of connatural powers (Uysal and Hagan, 1993). Push factors are created by the desires human beings have (Chon 1989) and they motivate people to leave their permanent residence and travel elsewhere; pull factors are those that attract people to visit a specific destination after they decide to travel. The push motivations have been useful in explaining the desire for travel, while the pull motivations help illustrate the actual destination choice (Lam and Hsu, 2006).

Relationship marketing is a continuous effort to identify, maintain, and build up a network with individual consumers and to continuously strengthen the network for the mutual benefit of both sides, through interactive, individualized, and value added contacts over a long period of time (Shani and Csalasani 1992, Fyall, Callod and Edwars 2003)

If one tries to combine the two concepts, one will realize that they are interrelated. A customer is first influenced by the push factors, which are sociopsychological motivations that push the customer to travel, then there are the pull factors, that create an image for a destination and the customer, inspired by that image, decides where to travel. After that, relationship marketing starts to operate by creating a network which transfers as feedback valuable information about the needs, desires and expectations customers have. As we said above, image is a very important factor for marketing campaigns since it affects the customers' decision to visit a particular destination.

According to Gunn (1972) tourists form an image of a destination after undergoing a multiple stage process. These include accumulating mental images of the destination (i.e., forming an organic image); modifying the initial image after more information (i.e., forming an induced image); deciding to visit the destination, visiting the destination, sharing the destination, returning home and modifying the image based on the experience in the destination. (Yuksel and Akgul 2006).

We believe that this final step of modifying individually the image can be used positively through the marketing offices by measuring and using the customers perceived "milieu", since it plays a critical role in generating repeat visitors.

Milieu and Tourism Milieu

The notion "milieu" can be defined as the socio-cultural and the geographic environment of the individual and their subjective psychological implications (Michalko and Ratz 2006). A main and decisive feature of this notion is its subjective nature: each human being experiences the environmental factors of the milieu through the filter of their inner soul. The milieu of a tourist destination is the essential part of its environment filtered by the individual traveller, and at the same time, it is an atmosphere filled with various sentiments. Beyond the subjective character of the recipient tourist, it must also be considered that the milieu is rooted in the environment of the destination, thus, it is inseparable from the objective reality. Consequently, the perception of a destination's milieu is not created only by the environment as a scene but also by the people who live there, their customs, their language and their habits.

In rural tourism, the tourist's milieu perception is based on previous experiences of rural areas--so there is no need to be a return visitor at a particular destination to have a specific image of how a "typically rural, authentic" place is supposed to be--the comparison of this expected image to the experienced milieu will determine the tourist's satisfaction and the quality of his/her experience. However, visitors' rural milieu perception is dependent on their own socio-cultural background: since the spatial structure and the cultural concept of "the village" are significantly varied throughout the world (Kiss, 2001), tourists tend to develop a preconception of "the countryside" as it exists in their home culture. A particular challenge of rural tourism marketing is to convey an attractive image of the rural tourist product to potential visitors while being able to connect their socio-culturally defined expectations to the given destination's reality.

The visual and narrative milieu elements used in marketing communication will affect the tourist's expectation of the extent to which the selected destination actually meets the criteria of "rurality". Emphasizing the rural milieu elements in product development may also increase tourists' satisfaction

Rural Milieu Structure

The tourist milieu may be understood as a meta-level of the destination as a tourist product: "it contains the abstract components of tangible reality, and while each milieu element may be perceived individually during the routine consumption of the site, it is the elusive totality of all the elements that is able to create a feeling of attraction in visitors" (Michalko and Ratz 2006:100). Figure 1 presents the kaleidoscopic structure of the tourist milieu--it comprises of the destination's physical environment and heritage values, the tangible and intangible elements of the tourism supply as well as the site's human characteristics such as behaviour of locals and fellow travellers, expressions of religion or the tourist-host relationship.

The structure of the "rural milieu" is based on this structure but the various components of the general destination milieu interact differently in rural tourism to create a specific rural milieu.


Research methods

The rural milieu theory is not based on a statistical research, but on the observations and notes made by the authors during interviews with local citizens and local authorities. These interviews were made during 2005 by Michalko and Fotiadis to examine the social and economic changes affecting small communities in Hungary and Greece. Three study areas were chosen in each country. The examined Hungarian villages are Karasz, Magyaregregy, Szaszvar and the Greek villages are Vria, Ritini and Elatochori. In their survey, they formed a questionnaire in which they could compare how the households promote and operate in each case. In Hungary, the questionnaires were delivered with the valuable help of "Tourinform" office, based in Karasz, which managed to distribute the questionnaire to the hosts. In Greece, they used a drop-off pick up method; this involved hand delivery of the questionnaire to each host, and returning the completed questionnaire within 24-48 hours.

In order to compare, we both visited the Greek National Tourism Organization and the Hungarian National Tourist Office websites. On both websites, one can find general information about the different regions and short information about gastronomy, activities, accommodation and others. The websites are interposed in different languages and specifically the Greek one in English and French and the Hungarian one in English, German and French.

Research findings

Using this secondary data we can see that in these two areas rural tourism is increasing rapidly and there is a high rate of revisiting of 42% and 30% proportionately. The visitors learn about the territories mainly from internet and brochures the hosts use to advertise their company. In this study, there were two very interesting differences. Firstly, the seasonality was totally dissimilar, as in Hungary the spring and autumn periods were very active in comparison to Greece, where the winter was very active; even though the two areas were wonderful during the whole year; and secondly, the fact that in Hungary mainly foreign customers visited the area, while in Greece they were mainly Greeks. We decided to compare the websites that the two countries used to advertise rural tourism and see how those affect these differences. After comparing the National websites we compared the brochures which we obtained by the Greek and Hungarian National offices.

On the Greek website, there were hyperlinks with advertising photos that delineate rural tourism. On the Hungarian one, there was a collection of pictures that someone can see via a virtual link. On the Greek website, compared to the Hungarian one, there is a direct link to Agrotouristiki S.A., which is an organization with public wealth interest and it is supervised by the Greek Tourist Ministry. The purpose of this organization is to help the development, management and promotion of rural tourism in Greece. On Agrotouristiki S.A website, someone can find information about the organization, the quality certification the company provides to rural tourism stakeholders and updates about rural tourism news. Moreover, it provides free of charge a monthly informational--advertising magazine about rural tourism. There are two more websites that are manipulated by the same organization. The one, Ruralinvest, offers a possibility to discover how to be sponsored for creating a rural tourism related company. The second one, called Agrotravel, has an advertising character, since it provides information and pictures about lodgings, Restaurants, Workshops, Activities, Products, Paths, Areas of Interest, Landmarks and others that are sorted geographically, by available services and by activity. The main problem is that only Agrotravel provides an English menu.

Hungarian National Tourist Office website refers to "Tourinform" in English and German but unfortunately you can not find any links to the website of the Hungarian Federation of Rural and Agrotourism. There one can find much information in English and German about rural tourism and most of them are followed by a picture (Table 1). An interesting element is that when someone is reading the page in Hungarian, he/she can find 70 links but it is not the same in case of reading it in another language (English and German) because in this case, one can read only 19 links which means that foreigners get less information, than Hungarians. During the comparison of the two countries, it was easy to conclude why Greece has only Greek visitors since a foreigner would find it extremely difficult to find the right link and obtain the required information. Even though the Hungarian websites look more organized, they do not lay attention on information about sponsoring from the EU.

Another important weakness in both sites is that although they are controlled by the government they do not advertise all the companies. For instance, in the research of Michalko and Fotiadis, on the Greek site there are 11 hosts but only 7 are advertised on the website of Agrotravel, providing a percentage of 63.64%. More pitiful are the results in Hungary, since from the 32 hosts only 3 are advertised on the website of the Hungarian Federation of Rural and Agrotourism, providing a percentage of 6,2%. We must add, that although an exhaustive search was made to collect (rural tourism websites) from the most widely used directories, the findings don't represent all the websites related to rural tourism.

Holiday brochures include two mediums for the communication of myth: 1) the photographic image and 2) the word (Wang et al 2002). People process pictures differently since pictures are more memorable than words and aside from that they can evoke mental images. We collected Hungarian brochures from a "tourinform" office in Budapest and Greek Brochures from the Greek National Tourism Organization in Larissa.

In each case we found brochures in English language and we compared firstly the general pictures and we classified them in to different categories. Secondly we compared the brochures the two countries provide for rural tourism although the Greek brochure was in Greek language and the Hungarian in English. We found 15 Hungarian brochures and 9 Greek. All the Greek ones were referring to a specific location (table 3), on the contrary the Hungarian were more general, referring to location, different styles of tourism and different touristic products (Table 2).

The colours at the Hungarian Pictures were mainly green, yellow, brown and red and there are slogans like "Talent for entertaining" and "The meeting point". At the Greek brochures the main colours were blue, green, white and grey and we didn't find any slogans.

We classified the pictures in the brochures in six different categories with a limitation that each pictures would be classified unitary. After the classification we concluded that the Greek Brochures represent the tourists "milieu" (and competitive advantage at the same time) for Greece by extracting a 38% of sightseeing pictures and 35% of summer atmosphere pictures. Rural houses and rural nature have a satisfying percent 14% if we consider that rural tourism is not the main attraction for the country (Figure 2). The Hungarian Brochures delineate sightseeing pictures in a lower level 25% than the Greek but reversely they represent a much higher percentage in rural ambience pictures 27% (Figure 3).

An interesting ascertainment is that at the Hungarian brochures consist advertising pictures for hotels, casinos, car rental office, something which we don't find at the Greek ones.

In both cases the brochures seem to affect the rural tourism customers, since in the Greek case the continuous delineation of summer atmosphere 35% and the small one of winter atmosphere 2% explains why the tourists prefer not to visit rural destinations during the summer. At the Hungarian case the summer atmosphere percentage is low 7% and that probably explains why rural tourism attracts mainly customers during that period. The Rural tourism Brochures in both countries has almost the same structure. Their pictures are mainly rural houses, rural environment, animals, flowers and grasslands. At the Greek brochure there are no pictures with individual houses but there are more cultural and gastronomy pictures than in the Hungarian. Another weakness at the Greek prospectus is that there are no athletic theme pictures, while there some at the Hungarian Brochure.

The rural tourist milieu of Greece and Hungary

Due to the intangible nature of the tourist product, the image of a destination plays a particularly important role in influencing tourists' choices and their satisfaction, since they are motivated to act by perceptions rather than reality. The significance of the destination image--a relatively well-represented notion in tourism--in affecting the tourist experience, demands further analysis of the similarities and differences of the concepts of destination image and tourist milieu.

The destination image is a mental construct of ideas and conceptions held individually or collectively (Embacher and Buttle 1989); it is comprised of cognitive, affective and conative components (Gartner 1993). Although both the image and the milieu of a destination are dependent on visitors' subjective perceptions, image formation is possible on the basis of preconceptions, while the milieu corresponds to the interiorization of personal impressions and firsthand experiences (Michalko and Ratz 2006). Potential tourists frequently create mental images of destinations in spite of their limited pre-visit knowledge (Laws et al 2002). In contrast, the tourist milieu develops as a result of the visitor's sensual experiences of the destination's attributes, so it is predominantly based on actual observation and participation rather than on advance expectations produced by marketing communication and the general media. However, certain forms of communication, particularly films and novels, but also tourist brochures and audio-visual online information may also contribute to the prospective tourist's milieu perception, although personal involvement and experiences are essential for the development of the milieu concept.

Table 4 summarizes the main similarities and differences of rural destinations' tourist milieu in Greece and Hungary. Due to the milieu concept's complexity, only the key components are emphasized.

The above rural tourist milieu reflects the impression of the experts after visiting the Hungarian villages Karasz, Magyaregregy, Szaszvar and the Greek villages Vria, Ritini and Elatochori and it refers at the main tourist seasons (winter for Greece and Summer for Hungary). According to the kaleidoscopic structure we manage to recognise the main similarities and differences in the Greek and Hungarian Rural milieu. We comprehended that there are many similarities like in noises, smells, perceived safety and others. There are some small differences in categories like host-guest relationship, traffic culture, and there is absolutely different milieu in price level, religion and in history. We believe that these similarities exist because this is the usual rural milieu for every country. It is very common for the rural environment to be safe, with animal noises and food and tree smells. Little differences exist since every country has a specific temperament. The Greek temperament is Mediterranean and this explains why the host and guest relationship are tighter. The differences are explained by the way rural tourism is illustrated in each country.


The purpose of this study was to present the importance of marketing as a strategic procedure contributing to rural tourism development and competitiveness. We point out that unfortunately rural tourism enterprises tend to be small-scale and supply a highly seasonal market and they have limited marketing knowledge and that's why we mainly compared the national websites of Greece and Hungary. By comparing the differences between the Greek and Hungarian National websites, we produced some interesting findings and we confirmed that the destination image, which was represented online by the tourist authorities, was not so easily accessible and not very successful. We believe that the brochures that we compared are representative of the tourist product each country has but more efforts should be made. Moreover, we wanted to present a new dimension, which is called "rural milieu". We indicated that a network between marketing plan and rural milieu is useful, since it provides additional market knowledge and may improve the understanding of rural tourism. Rural tourism marketing agencies have an opportunity to use rural milieu conducted on a continuous basis to track and understand changes in the behaviour and profiles of tourists over time. To more fully comprehend the influences of rural milieu, further research is required, which will examine a group of rural tourists before a trip and after a trip, comparing by this way with arithmetical data the image and the rural milieu.


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Anestis FOTIADIS *, Gabor MICHALKO **, Tamara RATZ ***

* Anestis Fotiadis, M.Sc.; Business Administrator; Ministry of Health, Economical Dep.; County of Thessaly; Greece, Larissa, Nikitara str. 18.

** Gabor Michalko, Ph.D; Senior Research Fellow; Geographical Research Institute Hungarian Academy of Sciences; Hungary 1112 Budapest, Budaorsi ut 45.

*** Tamara Ratz, Ph.D.; Professor of Tourism; Kodolanyi Janos University College, Department of Tourism; Hungary 8000 Szekesfehervar, Iranyi D. u. 4.
Table 1. Type of interest in the Hungarian
Federation of Rural and Agrotourism website

Type of Interest    Links with pictures

  Accommodation             446
     Riding                 182
       Spa                   58
     Museums                464
     Sights                 403
Natural Resources            65

Table 2. Hungarian Brochures

          Brochure title               Number of Pictures        %
                                     (Including Advertising

Accommodation and Information                 174             15.92%
Eger-Tokaj Wine Region

The Puszta and the Lake Tisza                  56              5.12%

Eger-Tokaj Wine Region                         60              5.49%

Wine and Gastronomy Northern                   93              8.51%

Tisza--Lake The Experience of a                26              2.38%
Water World

Thermaexperience: South Great                 107              9.79%

National Parks of Hungary                      54              4.94%

Northern Great Plain                           25              2.29%

Lake Balaton Recreational and                  32              2.93%

Activity Holidays

Talent for Entertaining Gastronomy             36              3.29%
and Wine

Towns and Culture Eger--Tokaj Wine             47              4.30%

Western Transdanubia                           25              2.29%

Budapest and Surroundings                      90              8.23%

Holiday in Villages of Hungary                116             10.61%

Step by Step Hungary                          152             13.91%

Total                                         1093            100.00%

Table 3. Greek Brochures

   Brochure title        Number of Pictures        %
                       (Including Advertising

Central Macedonia                93             26.50%
Crete                            30              8.55%
Dodecanese                       22              6.27%
Ionian Islands                   34              9.69%
North Eastern Aegean             25              7.12%
Kiklades                         61             17.38%
Peloponnesus                     41             11.68%
Delphi                           17              4.84%
Olympia                          28              7.98%
Total                           351             100.00%

Table 4. The key components of the rural tourist milieu in
Greece and Hungary

                             Greece                  Hungary

Climate                Wet cloudy winters      Hot shinning summer

Dominant landscape      Mountain ranges,       Hills, valley, downs
element                     valleys

History               Old Macedonian style    1960 structured style

Noises                 Animals, Tractors,    Animals, Tractors, Bells

Flavours                 Olives, Feta,        Paprika, cooking fat,
                            Traxana                    Pig

Smells                Fir cone, Gum-Resin,     Smoke, manure, Trees
                         Animals smell

Visuality              White, colourless,       Dark, colourless,

Clothing              Old woman with black     Rubber boots, Shabby
                       long dresses, work          work clothes

Language                   Different          Different dialect, no
                         pronunciation,          foreign language
                        limited foreign

Religion               Christian Orthodox    Catholic and Protestants
                      churches and priests           churches

Traffic culture           Slow, calm,         Slow, calm, Bicycles,
                          Motorbikes,         Agricultural machines
                          Agricultural             on the road
                      machines on the road

Public Hygiene          Clean, fresh air         Clean, fresh air

Host-guest               Friendly, Warm          Friendly, smile
relationship             welcome, Smile

Dissonance               Old and modern       Reach and pure houses
                      houses, Modern cafes

Social Interactions      Helpful, open            Helpful, open

Perceived safety             safety                   safety

Price level                Expensive                   low

Figure 2. Greek Brochure

Sightseeing's (Ancient monuments,
  castles, etc.)                    38%
Summer Atmosphere                   14%
Winter Atmosphere                    2%
Rural Ambience                      35%
Urban Ambience                       6%
other                                5%

Note: Table made from pie chart.

Figure 3. Hungarian Brochures

Sightseeing's (Ancient monuments,
  castles, etc.)                    25%
Summer Atmosphere                   27%
Winter Atmosphere                    1%
Rural Ambience                       7%
Urban Ambience                       7%
other                                23%

Note: Table made from pie chart.
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Author:Fotiadis, Anestis; Michalko, Gabor; Ratz, Tamara
Publication:Journal of Tourism Challenges and Trends
Article Type:Report
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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