If tourism is to contribute to the reduction of poverty and create employment, tourists also need to be attracted to smaller towns and rural areas. Development of rural tourism routes are often supply-side driven and the role of marketing is not well understood. This study therefore explores the experiences and insights of key supply-side stakeholders in two rural KwaZulu-Natal tourism routes, regarding the marketing of these routes, as well as the critical success factors that ensure future sustainable competitiveness, which may lead to local economic development and thus poverty relief. The researcher adopted an interpretivist epistemology along with subjectivist ontology, to allow for empathetic investigation of the perceptions of the stakeholders in rural tourism routes and of the marketing of such routes. Three approaches converged in the empirical study namely: a qualitative approach which allowed the researcher to gain more in-depth understanding of the factors related to route marketing; an exploratory approach which allowed the researcher to pursue new issues uncovered during the research process; and a case study approach which triangulates a variety of sources of information. Two very different routes were selected to provide wider insight into the research problem, namely the Midlands Meander and the Battlefields Route. The population was restricted to supply-side stakeholders and semi-structured, in-depth interviews were conducted with 29 respondents, selected through a combination of purposive and snowball sampling. The literature review explores rural tourism as a catalyst for economic development. The role of stakeholders in tourism routes is examined and the range of stakeholders is identified. The concept of societal marketing as an orientation that may give support to local economic development is explored. Destination marketing and the destination marketing mix, is discussed as the foundation of tourism route marketing. Particular attention is paid to destination branding and positioning, and a number of critical success factors in destination marketing are identified. The nature of tourism route marketing, the elements in the route marketing mix, and critical success factors in rural tourism route marketing are identified from the literature. The marketing practices of several international rural tourism routes are examined to determine good practice. Existing marketing activities and structures within KwaZulu-Natal are described as the background against which the two routes market their offerings. The empirical findings of the study reports on the benefits of rural tourism routes as perceived for various stakeholders. The roles of product owners on the route, the local community, and municipal and tourism marketing structures are described. Strategic route marketing issues are reported on, including sustainability of a route, insufficient visitors, responsibility to market the route, market targeting and factors that impact on marketing success. The elements of the route marketing mix are reported on with reference to the route product offering and experience, people, physical evidence and signage, pricing, and promotion. The study revealed a number of enabling factors that need to be in place for a route to succeed, namely leadership and co-operation on all levels; a functional route structure with broad representation; financial viability of the route; and route accessibility and signage. Several factors critical for the successful marketing of rural tourism routes are identified. These include the establishment of a strong identity and brand; providing a unique experience; balancing the route product mix, promotion of the route by all stakeholders; and effective use of electronic media. Recommendations are made for further research on rural tourism routes.
Dissertation (MPhil)--University of Pretoria, 2011.