Sustainable Rural Tourism Development Proposal at Mission Espada in San Antonio
San Antonio is a popular tourist destination, drawing more than 35 million visitors each year.Tourism in San Antonio currently is concentrated in visiting a wide range of tourist attractions which are concentrated within the city limits.The purpose of this study is to diversify the urban-centric tourism to the surrounding rural areas and to develop rural tourism through a sustainable model in these areas.
This proposal studies and focuses on the rural outskirts of San Antonio at Mission Espada with the aim to develop rural tourism as a way to revitalize the local agrarian-based economy and to reverse migration from rural areas to urban areas.
The proposed site is around 612 hectares and is located 1.2 miles south of Mission Espada, just outside the buffer zone as it is a World Heritage site.
This site has been chosen as it is accessible from Mission Espada through an asphalted country road in good condition. This road winds through country homes and farms, offering excellent vistas of the rural setting there. This road also has very little traffic which is ideal for cycling and directly connects the proposed site to the Mission Espada. The proposal is a rural tourism hub centered around rural life in Ranches in Texas that revolve around agriculture, dairy, livestock and equestrian activities.
Proposing a rural tourism model around Mission Espada would attract tourists and benefit rural communities as well. The model would generate a lot of employment opportunities for small businesses in the area while providing a unique way for tourists to experience the culture and heritage of Texas.
The city of San Antonio in the state of Texas is a popular tourist destination, that draws more than thirty-one million visitors each year (Travel and Tourism, 2014). However, tourism is currently concentrated in the urban areas within city limits of San Antonio. The city offers a wide range of tourist attractions like the Alamo, the River Walk, Six Flags theme park, Sea World and San Juan Capistrano. The city’s ten-day annual festival ‘Fiesta’ attracts about 3.5 million visitors with more than 20 % traveling from across the state, the nation, and different parts of the world (Fiesta San Antonio,2017).
The purpose of this proposal is to diversify tourism of San Antonio, which is currently concentrated within the city to the surrounding rural areas. The diversification of tourism is aimed at being the driving force of development and economic rejuvenation of the rural areas. The main focus of this proposal is the development of the rural area around Mission Espada, which is one of the missions in San Antonio. It is a World Heritage Site and, the surrounding areas that belong to the Heritage South Sector in San Antonio.
Based on the San Antonio Area Tourism Council survey research, the average visitor length of stay in San Antonio ranges from one day to over seven days, with an average of approximately four and a half days. For every one? half-day that the typical visitor extends their stay, hospitality industry impact could increase by approximately 11 %, which translates to approximately $9 to $11billion annually. This increase is seen mainly from overnight visitors. Additionally, the one?half day extended stay equates to an economic impact of approximately $1.0 billion in added revenue for San Antonio area (Destination SA update, 2011).
Currently, tourists visit Mission Espada as part of their Mission tour, spend a few hours at Mission Espada and move on to the other four missions or other attractions in San Antonio. Their accommodation is usually in hotels in the San Antonio city. They do not stay at Mission Espada and hence there is no scope for significant economic development through tourism in the rural areas surrounding Mission Espada.
This study aims at proposing a strategy which would encourage tourists to come to Mission Espada as a destination to experience Texas culture, heritage and a wide variety of rural recreational activities, in a historic setting with the local, rural people.
North America has predominantly been a rural society until recently. In the year 1790, only 5% of Americans lived in cities and towns with populations of 2500 or higher. Today, the figure is over 80% (Jensen, 1995). The main factors for the shift from rural to urban settlements were Industrialization. Industrialization brought about an economic restructuring from resource-based extractive economy dominant in rural areas to a more service-based economy in urban areas.
This phenomenon was further accelerated by the farm crisis and the changes in agricultural practices in the 1980’s, which resulted in the decrease of rural jobs and the migration to urban areas. (Bourke & Luloff,1995; Edgell & Cartwright, 1990; Luloff et al.,1994; Mac Donald & Jolliffe, 2003; Wilson et al., 2001).
North America’s rural areas have long been of interest to domestic and foreign tourists, for the majority of Canada and the United States are rural in nature and include bounteous natural and cultural features that appeal to many types of travelers. However, it has only been since the 1970’s and 1980’s that rural region, small villages, and county, state/ provincial, and national governments have begun considering the importance of rural tourism development in earnest as a result of declining traditional farming and extractive industries (Hall, Kirkpatrick, Mitchell; Timothy 2005:42).
Rural tourism offers people from urban societies to experience nature and lifestyle of rural people. They can participate in activities, try out rural cuisine and relax in a natural setting. The concept of rural tourism is by no means well defined and is subject to a number of interpretations. Fleischer and Pizam (1997) associate rural tourism with the ‘country vacation’ where the tourist spends the vast proportion of his vacation period engaging in recreational activities in a rural environment on a farm, ranch, country home, or the surrounding areas.
Rural tourism business has the potential to improve tourism as a way to rejuvenate and diversify the regional economy. This can be done through economic, social and cultural tourism with sustainable development practices while preserving the historical, natural and cultural heritage of the region.It provides the opportunity for people living in rural areas to supplement their traditional agriculture-based employment or other extractive means of employment such as logging, hunting, cattle rearing, fishing and combat rural poverty.
Based on a rural tourism study in Cyprus, Sharpley (2002) indicated that the term rural tourism is synonymous with ‘Agrotourism’. Agrotourism refers to ‘the development of tourism based on traditional accommodation facilities in villages in the rural and mountainous Troodos regions.’ This demonstrates the integral connection of Rural tourism to the agrarian-based rural communities and gives us a good idea of the dependence of rural tourism on the infrastructure and facilities available in these communities.
Additionally, it can be observed that agrarian-based communities are diversifying into tourism as a way to supplement their income from agriculture. According to Dewailly (1998), rural tourism is often portrayed as being sensitive to the environment and antithetical to the more common mass tourism. Mass tourism usually has been observed to be environmentally exploitative and has dominated tourism in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Cultural rural tourism can be defined as a distinct rural community with its own traditions, heritage, arts, lifestyles, places, and values as preserved between generations. Tourists visit these areas to be informed about the culture and to experience folklore, customs, natural landscapes, and historical landmarks. They might also enjoy other activities in a rural setting such as nature, adventure, sports, festivals, crafts and general sightseeing (MacDonald and Jolliffe, n.d).
This hybrid term is clearly derived from the concept of cultural tourism, which although defined in myriad ways, is generally understood as a kind of alternative form of tourism that is based on experience, understanding, and interacting with distinct local communities
In typical urban settlements, there are a lot of factors that promote rural tourism such as fast-paced life, disappearing natural landscapes/greenery, polluted environments, increase in a number of built forms and the compaction of living spaces due to lack of free land. In addition, among Americans and Canadians, there is a certain mystique and romanticized representation associated with the countryside.
According to Travel Industry Association of America (TIA), 62% of all American adults traveled to a small town or village between 1998 to 2000. While cities are important gateways and tourist destinations, rural space is vitally important part of the tourism industries and both countries for domestic and foreign visitors (Murphy, 2003; Murphy ; Williams, 1999). Rural tourism in the US can be classified into categories based on their location, culture, heritage and recreational activities that they offer. These categories can be seen in table 1 below.
Tourism Category Location Activities Offered
- Indian Reservations Native American reservations Indian Casinos, Handicrafts, Rural outlet malls, local events, national monuments
- Outdoor/Nature based National Parks/Reserves, Marine Parks Boating, fishing, camping, hiking, cycling, sightseeing
- Heritage based Rural areas with Cultural/Heritage significance Archeological tours, battlefield tours, cultural events/tours, mine/quarry tours
- Farm/Agriculture based Rural Ranches, Vineyards and Farm Homestays Demonstrative farming, hunting, fishing, Equestrian related activities, country-style cooking
Table 1: based on the information from (Hall, Kirkpatrick, Mitchell ; Timothy 2005:44-53).
Case study methodology was selected for this study as it provides the framework to analyze numerous contemporary tourism development plans. It provides the opportunity to utilize information from a wide variety of case studies, both national and international. The case studies allow for rigorous interpretation, combined with reason and logic which helps in conceptualizing the tourism development plan.
The evolution of the case studies with the passage of time can be observed. This provides valuable insights to the general acceptability of the project in relation to the geographic context and can explain its successes or failures. The positive aspects of the case studies can be incorporated to develop a holistic rural tourism model.
The following case studies are selected as they provide working examples of rural tourism models with a wide range in the geographical location of the projects ranging from Vermont in the United States of America, Akseki Sarihacilar Village in Turkey and the Island of Lesbos in Greece. They also give an idea of the activities and attractions typically offered in the rural tourism setting. The scale of the projects also varies, from Liberty Hill Farm, which is a privately owned and operated property, to the rural tourism development plan of the island of Lesbos in Greece undertaken by the government.
Liberty Hill Farm; Inn Vermont, USA
The Liberty Hill Farm and Inn situated in Vermont situated 340 miles away from New York was selected as a case study, as it is a good example of Agrotourism in the context of the United States. It takes advantage of the combination of Vermont’s natural landscapes which are primarily forested and the historical background to create a hub for rural tourism.
The tourism hub proposed at Mission Espada in San Antonio also aims at utilizing its natural landscapes and historical background for rural tourism which is a common feature that both the studies have in common. Hence this case study serves as a working example of the planning of the hub.
The Liberty hills farm primarily caters to guests from the urban megapolis of New York, offering them an opportunity to experience the rural lifestyle through a host of farm-related activities and nature-based activities. It also offers country style home cooked rustic cuisine that features fresh, locally grown produce according to seasonal availability.
The activities offered at the Liberty Hill Farm can be subcategorized into farm related experiential activities and Nature/Outdoor related nature activities. The farm-related activities offered are further divided into agriculture-related activities and farm animal based experiential activities.
The agriculture-based activities on offer are berry picking, a tour of the vegetable farm. Activities such as milking cows, bottle feed baby calves and playing with country kittens relate to the farm animal-based experiences. Nature/outdoor activities offered to make good use of the naturally occurring forest trails, river, and mountains. The nature-based activities offered are fly fishing, hiking, walking amongst wildflowers, skiing, mountain biking and star gazing.
The wide range of experiences presented to the guests ranging from the physically intensive nature activities to the relaxing experiences of farm-related activities makes sure to cater to the wide range of visitors. The aim of this proposal is to create a tourist hub that caters to all ranges of visitors offering them a wide choice of activities.
Akseki Sarihacilar Village, Antalya, Turkey
In this case study (Altun, Beyhan, Esengil, 2007) propose a framework for diversifying tourism in Antalya, Turkey through the evaluation of the village in terms of sustainable rural tourism. With the goal to provide maximum efficiency in economic, social and cultural tourism through sustainable development practices. The intention of sustainable tourism has been to improve the tourism phenomena in a way to contribute to the regional economy and social life permanently without destroying the environment, society and historical natural and cultural and entities.
The Sarihacilar village was selected as it had preserved natural and civil architectural works. The aim of the project was to target the well-established monopoly of the sea, sun and sand tourism and help diversify tourism by presenting a new concept of alternative tourism. This alternative tourism plan would rejuvenate the rural economy that is currently dependent on the declining traditional means of employment.
In order to make these rural areas suitable for tourism, it is critical to developing an understanding of tolerance among the local people towards the potential tourists who belong to different historical and cultural backgrounds. It is also important for the preservation of local value that is jeopardized by globalization, and to accelerate the attempts for development by means of rural tourism.
The diversification of tourism framework to the rural village of Sarihacilar was realized by the six phases listed below:
- Preparation of an inventory of the existing Village.
- Preparation of the surveys of the houses.
- Communication with the homeowners, determination of necessities and reprogramming of the buildings.
- Preparation of maps of existing conditions.
- Restoration of the buildings.
- Preparation of settlement plans for Village.
A significant amount of land is reserved for sports facilities, rural activities and entertainment facilities. The project also provides information on other activities available in the surrounding region. The numerous recreational activities proposed within a twenty-kilometer radius are walking, climbing, wilderness tours, bird watching, photography, hunting, cycling, landscape appreciation and rural heritage studies (Altun, Beyhan, 2007). The tourism hub proposed at Mission Espada would be developed along the lines of the same sustainable development principles, that ensures the protection of the environment, society, culture, and heritage of the area (Altun, Beyhan, Esengil, 2007).
Island of Lesbos, Greece
This case study was chosen to understand the development of the Island of Lesbos by the decentralization and diversification of tourism from the central ‘Greater Athens’ to the agrarian-based rural community on the island of Lesbos. The strategies used to develop sustainable tourism on the Island and the role of policymakers.
The main proposal ‘Rural Tourism Program for Mission Espada Region in San Antonio, Texas’ shares the same objectives with this study which are:
- Decentralization and diversification of tourism.
- Sustainable development of rural tourism in agrarian-based rural communities.
- The stimulation of rural employment and economic development of the region.
Up to the early seventies Greek policy aimed at a rapid development of the Greater Athens Area. Later on, the emphasis of policymakers shifted to the mainland of Greece with the construction of surface transportation networks, electricity and communication lines.
At the end of the seventies, the policy shifted more to a decentralization policy. By means of five-year plans, the policy has also aimed at the development of the backward regions of the country.
Tourism development played an important role in these plans as it represents a major economic activity in Greece. In 1988 tourist revenues represent more than 7% of the Gross Domestic Product. Tourism creates also a large number of direct, indirect or induced jobs. In 1990 about 480,000 people were estimated to be employed in the tourist sector of Greece. The number of tourist arrivals in Greece has grown by about 420 % in the period 1971-1992.’ This development is clearly reflected on many islands, e.g. on Lesbos (Nijkamp and Verdonkschot, 1995).
The island of Lesbos is stil1 one of the economically deprived and sensitive areas of Greece. The primary sector is the most important one of Lesbos’ economy, because of the enormous olive oil and ouzo production. While foreign tourism has existed on Lesbos since the 1960s, it has had over the past 10-15 years a significant impact on the island with the development of built holiday resorts and the expansion of facilities for tourism development.
The attractions of the island play an important role in future tourist arrivals. Its Mediterranean climate, its many beaches, and bays, it’s beautiful landscape, and the size of the island offer the advantage of diversified tourism with many options. Other natura1 features of the island are the petrified trees, thermal springs, olive gardens and the variety of the landscape.
Archaeological sites, folk and art museums, Byzantine castles and cathedrals, ancient theaters, and Roman aqueducts can be visited. The island is also rich in religious buildings. There are many monasteries, which exhibit the heritage of the Island. Of special importance are the old picturesque villages like Molyvos and the traditional industries, like olive oil production, ouzo production, leather, wood carving and pottery industries (Nijkamp and Verdonkschot, 1995).
The visitors have been classified into different tourism categories in order to conceptualize and plan to offer activities and services based on their specific demands. The potential tourists are classified into the following types of tourism which provide a brief description of the activities offered in each category in table 2.