Academic journal article Journal of Tourism Challenges and Trends

Analysis of the Process of Local Agrifood Products Development and Tourism in a Rural Area: A Case Study in the South of Belgium

Academic journal article Journal of Tourism Challenges and Trends

Analysis of the Process of Local Agrifood Products Development and Tourism in a Rural Area: A Case Study in the South of Belgium

Article excerpt

Introduction

In the past thirty years, several projects were set up to develop tourism in such a way that it contributes to policies and strategies of development a rural area. The particular position occupied by tourism is due to the fact that this sector is considered capable of participating in cross-sectoral development patterns that favour the local economy, as well as the protection of heritage and the strengthening of regional identities. The role thus attributed to, or even imposed on, tourism is part of a political and economic context of changing the rural spaces seeking new forms of development, or alternatives to a declining agricultural economy. If this paradigm, which considers tourism as a strategic axis of development, is a recurring rhetoric in regions that have been left vulnerable by the decline of an agrarian economy, it is not limited exclusively to agricultural and rural areas. In fact, since these tourism strategies are fully part of territorial competition between cities or between rural communities, they regularly look for tourism development, which is thus perceived by many private and public sector economic players as the hope for these regions (Decroly & Duquesne, 1999). It is true that the development of tourist practices over the past three decades has encouraged many rural areas in Europe to focus on tourism in order to try to (re)energize their local economy. Indeed, according to several analysts, the main components of the current trends in tourism should be linked to the concept of authenticity that tourists notably associate with local culture, contact with nature, local produce, etc. All these elements seem encouraging for rural areas keen to diversify their development by means of tourism projects.

While, for the instance, there is abundant literature on alternative food systems, and on the stakes involved in a food-based shift to the local (Hinrichs, 2000; Mormont & Van Huylenbroeck, 2001; Renting et al., 2003; Ilbery et al., 2004). The research on the relationship between tourism and gastronomy is very recent when it comes to relations between the use of traditional regional products and the strategies that allow the creation of a sense of regional identity among local populations (Bell & Valentine, 1997; Bessiere, 1998; Paasi, 2001; Warnier & Rosselin, 1996), or the contribution of regional food products to regional development (Marsden et al., 2000; Kneafsey & Ilbery, 2001; Pecqueur, 2001; Parrott, et al. 2002; Meler & Cerovic, 2003).

This field has attracted little attention on the part of researchers, all the more so because tourism and gastronomy have only gradually attained the status of an academic research subject in their own right. It is nonetheless true that, over the past ten years, we have seen an increasing interest among scholars of "tourism studies" in food tourism. Among the studies conducted on local agrifood products (LAPs), some have to do with agriculture and their value for tourism. Emphasis is placed, for instance, on the role of tourism in participating in agricultural diversification, thus stressing the challenges specific to rural spaces such as: landscape management, strengthening local identities, and agricultural diversification (Bessiere, 1998; Roberts & Hall, 2001; Boniface, 2003; Woodland & Acott, 2007).

The consumption of local products during tourist visits also make it possible to respond to the quest for authenticity that tourists are after (Cuvelier et al., 1994; Cuvelier, 1994; Bessiere, 1998; Westering, 1999; Fox, 2007; Kim et al., 2009), as some authors stress, while numerous studies of tourism address the question of the uniqueness of a place, a uniqueness represented by symbols, or an atmosphere considered specific to the destination (Hall & Mitchell,, 2000; Frochot, 2003; Fox, 2007). Little work has, paradoxically, been done focusing specifically on the role of local food products, or of gastronomy more generally, in the construction of images and physical representations of a tourist destination. …

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