This study presents an analysis of the evolution of the tourism seasonality in rural destinations in process of consolidation. Consolidation is understood as the annual growth in the number of visitors until the destination reaches a stable and mature state. The aim is to determine how the seasonal intensity evolves during the process of consolidation of these destinations while we analyze whether the growth of the tourist activity implies a reduction of the seasonality. The need to know more about this process comes from the importance of the tourist activity’s strengthening as a real option of development and creation of stable employment in rural destinations, conditioned by the seasonal trends.
The study begins with the analysis of the consequences that result from the effects that tourism seasonality has on rural development, so that the effects on rural destinations of these tendencies can be contextualized correctly. To do so, we present a bibliographic review based on tourist seasonality, its causes, impacts and the role of tourism in rural development. The work continues with a description of the methodology used to reach the goals set. In this case, we propose, as a methodological innovation, the construction of a synthetic multivariable indicator, such as the Method of Distance Pena DP2, which is able to describe the seasonality phenomenon in a comprehensive way. This innovation could be used in different fields to compare the seasonal intensity of different countries, regions, cities or types of tourism. After explaining and justifying this alternative, we present the results obtained from its application to the Spanish rural tourist destinations.
We justify choosing Spain as the area of study because of its intense tourist activity: in 2015, it was responsible for the 11.7% of the national GDP—119 billion Euros—and helped create in a direct way 1.4 million jobs, above any other activity present in Spain’s economy [1
]. Spain ranked third in 2015 in terms of income coming from international tourism with USD 57 billion, below The United States with an income of USD 178 billion and China, with USD 114 billion [2
Rural tourism in Spain drew 1.57 million tourists in 2016, which means a growth of 86.36% in the last 11 years [3
] and therefore proves an excellent area to study the consolidation of the non-conventional destinations. We speak of non-conventional destinations since in this country in 2005 only 844,575 travelers were considered to be rural tourists, opposite to the 47.74 million coastal tourists [3
]. The fact that now we can consider it a consolidated type of tourism is due to the increase in the number of tourists. Rural tourism in Spain revolves around 65 rural destinations, classified in this way by the National Statistics Institute (NSI) contingent upon the Spanish Government. For an establishment to be considered a proper rural accommodation, it must be in the official register and fulfill the requirements set by the laws of each regional government. The NSI uses the monthly data generated by the tourist activity developed in these establishments in each tourist area. These official data will also help to construct the base to develop our study.
A low degree of seasonality is a necessary or desirable condition, at least, since a steady flow of annual income, activity and employment is needed to position tourism as a real development alternative. Seasonality is a common phenomenon in several economic sectors but tourism is affected to a greater extent by this tendency [4
]. If we focus on the tourism industry we, can consider Burtler’s definition “a temporal imbalance in the phenomenon of tourism, [which] may be expressed in terms of dimensions of such elements as numbers of visitors, expenditure of visitors, traffic on highways and other forms of transportation, employment, and admissions to attractions” [5
]. According to that, this phenomenon can be described using different variables, which would only hinder its measurement. This means, as argued by Martin et al., that the variable chosen to describe seasonality will condition the ranking of destinations based on their intensity [6
]. Hence, to evaluate tourism’s annual stability, a global system that allows us to analyze these tendencies considering the most descriptive information is needed. This system is the additional contribution presented in this paper: the proposal of a synthetic indicator of seasonality that provides us with a comprehensive supply–demand analysis.
The measurement of the tourist destinations’ seasonal intensity is crucial when identifying how capable is the tourist activity to act as an element of development in rural areas. To know these tendencies is important to perform a tracking of the stability and to be able to compare between territories or the different types of tourism. Several authors have noted the lack of studies about some aspects of the tourist seasonality, necessary to enhance the comprehension of this phenomenon. Koenig-Lewis and Bischoff claimed that research gaps still remain in terms of both defining a solid theoretical framework and the need to adopt a more demanding quantitative perspective [7
]. This last point is directly related with the contribution of this work: a comprehensive supply–demand approach that is able to provide a perception of the seasonality’s intensity. The absence of synthetic indicators able to describe this phenomenon completely hinders its tracking.
The methodology proposed by this study to solve this problem has its roots in the construction of a synthetic indicator, that departing from a group of variables or partial indicators of the seasonality, quantifies several aspects of the phenomenon and aggregate them into a single data. In this case, an aggregation of information about seasonal trends expressed through several supply and demand variables is generated. The index produces a classification of the seasonality’s intensity in the different rural tourist destinations using the Method of Distance Pena (DP2), which allows for the measurement of disparities between different areas [8
]. The reason for using the DP2 method and its advantages over other statistical methods are discussed below.
2. Seasonality and Sustainable Development in the Rural Environment
The concept of rural tourism is broad, which makes it necessary to accurately define the term. To do so, we consider the definition proposed by Blanco “The singular expression of the new forms of tourism, characterised by: being developed outside urban centres; occurring on a small scale; using—in a variety of ways—the natural, cultural, heritage and accommodation resources available, and the services belonging to the rural environment; and contributing to local development and to the diversity of tourism competitiveness” [11
]. The starting premise of this work is the potential importance of the tourist activity in the rural development. Priskin deepens further in this idea and points out that tourism is a priceless tool for the sustainable development of the rural areas [12
]. Several local communities in rural regions across the world are encountering serious economic crises resulting in out-migration of populations, particularly youth, deteriorating natural resources on which livelihoods—fishing, agriculture and mining—have depended for centuries; many of which may now be facing total collapse as a result. In response to these severe economic and societal threats, rural regions have been forced to re-examine their alternatives in an attempt to retain or attain economic survival and sustainability [13
]. Tourism is known to have a far more visible effect in rural areas and developing countries than in urban and developed ones, and perhaps a greater effect on rural residents [14
]. Moreover, tourism generates impacts on other sectors related to sustainable development, such as the local agriculture [15
]. In both developed and less-economically developed nations, public sector attention has increasingly focused on the perceived economic benefits of tourism, which has progressively been adopted as a vehicle for the regeneration of rural areas suffering economic decline or deprivation [16
]. In most industrialized countries, rural tourism is becoming an important tool for the economic and social regeneration of outlying rural zones [22
]. The great advantage of rural tourism is that it can relatively develop without depending on firms or big companies from outside the local communities, or on their decisions [24
]. Sustainable tourism aims to channel tourism to the advantage of all stakeholders—destination places and communities, tourists and all the associated activities and services [25
]. It is increasingly important for the European economy [26
], can be a key tool in diversifying activities in rural areas and represents a sustainable alternative to traditional resort-based tourism [27
]. Current European rural policy is moving away from protectionism and towards a focus based on the market and global competition [28
]. Considering this, it is of extreme importance to identify and analyze which factors can limit the effect of the tourism industry on rural development as this paper does in regard to seasonality.
Studies have identified both the positive and negative environmental impacts of tourism [29
]. On the negative side, Puczkó and Rátz observed that inappropriate tourism development often leads to increased stress on destinations and in negative changes in the destinations’ physical and sociocultural characteristics [30
]. On the positive side, most conservationists have argued that tourism is a relatively environmentally benign activity and an economically viable alternative to extractive industries, such as mining and logging [31
]. Doswell argues that tourism focuses attention on significant environmental issues and stimulates initiatives to conserve and enhance the environment [32
]. Tourism draws attention to issues relating to biodiversity, endangered species and human impacts on the environment. Tourism is also often used to provide an economic rationale to preserve natural areas rather than to develop them for alternative uses, such as agriculture, forestry and mining [33
]. As we will show later, the harmful imbalances derived from the tourism seasonality are due to the intensification of the tourism’s negative effects in certain moments of the year as well as to the limitation of the positive ones during certain times, which makes it a factor of huge importance that should be monitored.
Sustainable development for community tourism should aim to improve the residents’ quality of life by optimizing local economic benefits, protecting the natural and built environment and providing a high-quality experience for visitors [34
]. Rural tourism is based on the premise of sustainable environmental, economic and social development [40
]. It can be used to foster the sustainability and regeneration of rural areas [42
]. Rural tourism must also preserve the local culture and environment as well as support the rural economy while offering long-term sustainability in the context of a diversified economy [42
]. Sustainable tourism development has to be economically viable and naturally and culturally sensitive at the same time [30
]. In this work we analyze the tourist activity’s viability to establish itself as an element of development, since its potential will be greater in cases where the annual stability has been proven and that is why the evolution of the seasonal intensity is studied during the process of consolidation of the rural destinations.
Rural tourism is largely a domestic phenomenon with a disparate nature across countries and continents [43
]. This explains why the current literature in rural tourism has seen a significant number of case studies in terms of countries and rural tourism attractions in different countries [45
]. Sharpley and Roberts also concluded that two other themes could be identified for rural tourism research [44
]. They are rural tourism as “sustainable” activity and rural tourism as an agent of rural development. The disciplinary knowledge in rural tourism appears to have been accumulated in an inductive way by adding new cases from different countries. Continuing this trend, this work provides additional evidences applied to the case of Spain, since it generates an excellent framework considering the process of consolidation of this tourist activity, the number of destinations to analyze and the importance of rural tourism in terms of number of travelers.
To understand the effect that tourist seasonality has on destinations in process of development, it is imperative to know its causes, impacts and manifestations. One of the more widespread classifications is that of Hylleberg, which differentiates between three groups of determinants: weather (temperature, number of sunshine hours), calendar effects (dates of religious holidays, festivals) and timing decisions (school holidays, business holidays, fiscal years, accounting periods, etc.), these factors can also be classified into natural and institutional holidays [46
]. The location of the destination is also a key factor when determining seasonality patterns, since less climate-dependent destinations capable of offering a stable or diversified product throughout the year will enjoy lower seasonal patterns [6
]. Higham and Hinch described the main causes of seasonality as being due to restrictions associated with tourism [47
]. In addition to these factors, other elements affecting tourism seasonality that are unrelated to these restrictions have also been described, such as social pressure or inertia [5
], or the tourist’s income and the evolution of the relative price [48
The negative effects of tourism seasonality can be separated into these different categories: economic, ecologic, sociocultural and effects on the employment. The economic effects imply that the coexistence of peak and underutilization periods generate drops in the benefits [49
] as well as inefficiency in the use of resources and utilities [48
]. During the peak period, it may also be difficult to ensure service quality [52
], and maintain facilities [53
]. In addition, the local community must secure income to compensate for the rest of the year [54
]. Ecological effects are associated with the concentration of visitors during the peak season. These include the congestion of rural roads, disturbance of wildlife, environmental degradation and the production of large volumes of waste, among others [55
]. Some authors agree that in areas with a high tourist pressure, a period of rest is necessary to recover resources [56
]. Socio-cultural effects include negative impacts on both the local community and visitors in peak seasons, such as road congestion and heavy traffic, lack of parking, lines for services or increases in the costs of services, among others [59
]. During the peak season, extra staff must often be hired to provide certain public services, which requires increasing local taxes, since national governments allocate resources in relation to the resident population [54
]. During the high season this means that tourists will not be provided adequate services, whereas in the low season many local companies may close [5
], which affects the reputation and image of the destination [61
]. Seasonal employment affects both the local community and the employers and is one of the most widely studied topics in tourism seasonality [61
]. One of the effects of the tourism seasonality is the difficulty to recruit suitable staff [54
] and to maintain an adequate quality standard [62
], since the impermanence affects the training of the staff. In addition, this type of employment tends to attract people with low qualifications [63
]. However, highly seasonal jobs are very positive for other groups with discontinuous work needs, such as students, or to complement other areas of employment, such as agriculture [54
Considering this, the positioning of tourism as a tool for development in rural areas must assume these limitations, although the limitations will be minor as long as the seasonal patterns are as well. Hereunder, we will analyze if the seasonal intensity tends to disappear in destinations that consolidate this activity, because even a certain degree of instability can be experienced in the early stages of the destination’s development. Until seasonality is not under control and reduced, these effects will last and limit the developing possibilities of several regions. This observation calls for a comprehensive understanding of these tendencies, its measurement and tracking as a previous step to the definition of public or private policies to restrain the problem.
5. Conclusions and Discussion
The tourist activity establishes itself as an alternative of development for several rural locations, although a certain level of intra-annual stability is needed to ensure a flow of homogeneous income and stable employment. Similarly, the annual stability of the number of tourist arrivals involves a lower pressure on the environment and a better use of facilities and resources, which also affects the satisfaction of the tourist and the feeling of the citizens.
Developing anti-seasonal policies requires accurate and complete instruments able to measure the phenomenon’s intensity among regions or countries as well as keeping track of its evolution. It is necessary to understand this phenomenon to mitigate it and to do so it is also necessary to develop complete measuring instruments. Koenig-Lewis and Bischoff argued that there is a lack of definitions to quantitatively describe tourism seasonality [7
]. These same authors conclude that different seasonality measures have been proposed in the literature without a single method being accepted.
Depending on the variable used as a reference, the ranking of destinations may be altered depending on the seasonality trends’ intensity [6
]. Thus, it is necessary to define a comprehensive evaluation system of the seasonality that adopts a set of supply–demand variables as its reference. In this way, the phenomenon could be fully measured. The DP2 indicator is the best way to obtain synthetic indicators since it guarantees that the weight of the initial variables is determined objectively and, therefore, it can avoid problems such as the aggregation of variables and the duplication of information [87
Comparing the seasonal intensity in the Spanish rural destinations in the years 2005 and 2016 has permitted the comparison between the seasonal intensity of these two years and the consolidation process of said destinations. It can be determined that all the locations with improvements in their levels of seasonality have also manifested a high growth in the rate of annual arrivals. Hence, it seems that the consolidation of a destination helps restrain the seasonal trends. On the other hand, the destinations that noted an improvement in their levels of seasonality are those of a smaller size, which makes it seem like this effect only takes place in the early stages of the consolidation. In this regard, none of the destinations with a larger number of arrivals is included in the group of destinations with better seasonal trends, so the earnings are reduced in locations of a certain size already consolidated.
Consequently, the growing processes of rural destinations improve the levels of seasonality in the early stages but the consolidation of said destinations does not guarantee better seasonal patterns. When evaluating the tourism’s capacity to act as an instrument of development in rural environments, a satisfactory number of visitors and a certain level of annual stability of said activity are needed. As noted in this analysis, these two characteristics appear to not take place simultaneously. The destinations able to obtain better profits because of their consolidation do not enjoy the annual stability needed to provide stable income and employment throughout the year. The results are consistent with previous studies where the rural tourism’s high seasonality is noted [119
]. This fact might condition the support that the tourism industry receives from the citizens, since said support is based on the assessment of potential benefits [124
]. Nonetheless, the profits produced by the activities developed in rural environments include certain benefits besides the economical ones. As argued by Perić et al., there is a gap in the knowledge and understanding of mechanisms on how to deliver social and economic community benefits [125
Complementary to the proposal of a synthetic indicator able to measure tourism seasonality, this study helps to enhance the knowledge about the impact of the analyzed variables related to the seasonality. Moreover, we can issue conclusions on which aspects are more relevant when explaining the disparities in the levels of seasonality among regions. The proposal to measure tourism seasonality must be interpreted as a scientific contribution seeking to create a methodological base that helps the analysis of a complex problem poorly studied. Future research should continue to work on a comprehensive assessment of the effects of rural tourism beyond economic ones. In relation to this work, the analysis of the seasonality’s effect on rural environments should be completed with studies focused on the environment and social impacts.