2 Drivers and trends in the demand for outdoor recreation and nature tourism in Europe and the likely implications for policy and planning

Recently a number of attempts have been made to try to anticipate the trends in outdoor recreation demand likely to result from changes already underway in society. One example has been carried out in England by the Henley Centre/Headlight Vision who produced a report for the Countryside Agency which attempted to evaluate trends likely to affect outdoor recreation over the next 15 to 20 years. This report identified a large number of drivers that may affect recreation. The initial list can be grouped into a number of major themes that are likely to affect different countries and regions in different ways and to different degrees (Henley Centre, 2005). These are presented below. Some are also supported by other evidence while others emerged from stakeholder workshops and are yet to be realised. Some of these are mainly social and demographic issues while others are environmental.

2.1 Social and demographic drivers and trends

Demographic changes. These changes include the ageing society, where people are living longer, a trend for people to have children later, lower birth rates leading to families with fewer children, a wider range of household types, increases in ethnic diversity as a result of migration, a flow of young people to cities from the countryside, rural depopulation, reducing populations in some countries and increasing populations in others. These changes result in different patterns in the use of leisure and recreation time, for example older retired people may have many years of time for participating in recreation although as they grow older their physical abilities reduce. Another example is the decrease in traditional households, so that family outings to recreation sites are less the norm. As people have children at later ages they are able to spend more time travelling (a big impact on nature tourism demand, see below) or take more holidays.

It is difficult to underestimate the impact of this driver over time. Many statistics demonstrate the major effect of demographic changes (Eurostat, 2006), such as population reduction in rural areas in many parts of Europe. In the U.S.A., however, population growth through immigration is a significant factor (Cordell, 2005*).

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Figure 3: A trail in a park in Helsinki which has been specially laid out with older people in mind.

The affluent society. As developed countries become more prosperous and people have higher average incomes they are able to spend more of their income on leisure and recreation activities. This is also linked to the convenience culture, to the rise of the empowered consumer who wants more choice and to changing work patterns enabling people to use leisure time more flexibly. As economies mature and people already possess most of the tangible consumer products that they want they start to desire intangible products such as experiences, often gained through leisure and recreation, and especially through travel to far off places and in the pursuit of extreme adrenaline sports and experiences.

The evidence of this can be seen in some of the statistics related to nature tourism in developing countries. In 2005, there were more than 800 million international tourist arrivals globally, an increase of 5.5% on 2004 (World Tourism Organization, 2006*). It is estimated that the market for nature tourism is increasing at six times the rate of tourism overall (World Tourism Organization, 2006). Some of the factors that have contributed to this growth trend in nature tourism are that people are looking for new experiences, adding diversity to their experiences, combining business travel with holidays and looking to “get back to nature” (Maetzold, 2002*).

In Europe, pressure on leisure time is leading people to go on more, but shorter, trips (ETC, 2006*). In addition, increased incomes and the growth of single-person households among the youth market (16–35 age group) which accounts for over 20% of global tourism, are expected to result in more active holidays, particularly adventure nature tourism (ETC, 2006*).

The information society. This, with the all-pervasive influence of the internet, and of the increasingly common use of mobile phones means that people are able to obtain information and to communicate with each other very quickly and at any time of day or night (Selwyn, 2005). As a result people make plans about their leisure and recreation time very quickly, at the last minute and they also change them easily. They also make decisions on the basis of information available from recreation and tourism providers on the internet, buy travel tickets, hotels and equipment over the internet and write feedback about their experience on it.

Health and well-being. Society is increasingly concerned about the physical and mental health of its citizens, with many conditions such as obesity and stress seen as reaching epidemic proportions. Part of the concept of well-being is also associated with social inclusion, where people from disadvantaged communities are able to take part fully in society. Disability, age, poverty and poor living environments are often associated with each other and with poor health and well-being. This has led to a desire to make the outdoors, especially more natural areas accessible and used by as many people as possible. There is also what can be termed a re-tuning to nature, where people feel a desire to become reconnected to the natural world from which they feel disconnected by modern lifestyles. The increasing evidence for this is reviewed in a later section of this paper.

There has been recent work at trying to develop indices of life satisfaction that take into account the role of human, social, built and natural capital at a country level (Vemuri and Costanza, 2006). This suggests that social inclusion, as part of social capital, and natural areas as part of natural capital, are both part of the equation of life satisfaction.

Environmental and community awareness. According to the Henley Centre/Headlight Vision report people have a generally greater awareness of the environment and its problems, such as global warming, pollution and deforestation. Membership of environmental organisations is increasing and governments are taking environmental issues seriously at a national and international level. Single issue politics concerning different environmental aspects are also on the rise. Many people with such interests also want to engage in nature or ecotourism but they also wish to take part in activities that may have a benefit for their local environment or for that of another country. There is also a rise in communal yearning, where people want to feel part of a community and to contribute to it during their leisure time by participating in community activities. This increasing awareness of the environment and community can also help the managers of protected areas implement measures that may restrict recreational access, because people understand the need for this action.

2.2 Environmental drivers and trends

Landscape change. This factor is associated with the environment within which people live, work and spend their leisure and recreation time. As a result of increasing urbanisation, rural depopulation, pressures on the environment, climate change and changes in the economics of food and timber production, brought about by policy changes and global trade, the landscape is changing in different ways in different countries. In western Europe, for example, urban growth is generated by economic development, transport infrastructure and by demographic changes. This may be controlled to greater or lesser degrees by planning policies and instruments. There is also a trend for the gentrification of the countryside as people move away from the towns and cities to rural landscapes where the quality of life and community is seen to be better (Spencer, 1997).

In rural and peripheral regions landscapes are becoming abandoned as farming is uneconomic and people migrate to the towns. This can have positive effects on the environment, as pollution reduces and natural habitats increase, leading to attractive places for recreation. However, this can also reduce the quality of the landscape, the infrastructure for recreation and tourism may be at risk and the people who remain may not be well equipped with the entrepreneurial skills needed to take advantage of the potential for recreation and nature tourism (MacDonald et al., 2000)

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Figure 4: An abandoned field in Latvia, the result of economic and social changes in the countryside.

Climate change. With the increasing concern over climate change and the negative impact that emissions from vehicles have on the environment, visitor transport issues should be viewed as part of an integral network and alternatives created to the car or aeroplane. Climate change is one of the biggest long-term threats facing not only the tourist industry but also the planet and the impacts are beginning to be felt around the world. Potentially, climate change could lead to the loss of many destinations whose appeal depends on the natural environment (ETC, 2006). For example, climate change poses a serious threat to the future health of coral reefs through the increased frequency and intensity of mass bleaching events (Grimsditch and Salm, 2006*). The research conducted by (Grimsditch and Salm, 2006) not only identified the main resistance and resilience factors of coral reefs to bleaching but also management tools and strategies that can and need to be implemented to enhance reef resilience. Areas where nature tourism is dependent on high quality reef ecosystems will need to take this advice on board to minimize the impacts of climate change.

If terrestrial species are unable to move or adapt to new climatic conditions, local extinctions may occur. Vulnerable or already stressed ecosystems will be the first to be affected by climate change. Scientists have been monitoring changes in phenology for many years. Phenology is the simplest process in which to track changes in the ecology of species in response to climate change (Walther et al., 2002*). Menzel and Fabian (1999) reported that in Europe, over 30 years, spring events, such as leaf unfolding, had advanced by 6 days and autumn events, such as leaf colouring, were delayed by 4.8 days. Responses by individual species to climate change may disrupt interactions with others (Walther et al., 2002). Crick et al. (1997*) analysed data from the British Trust for Ornithology’s nest record scheme collated between 1971 and 1996. Of the 65 species studied, 20 had significant trends towards earlier egg laying with an average of 8.8 days (Crick et al., 1997). Bird watching (avitourism) was the fastest growing nature-based tourism in the United States in 2002 (Maetzold, 2002). Any wildlife features that people want to enjoy will be affected by changes in the timings of these events. The threat of climate change has also seen an increase in the number of people visiting Alaska or Antarctica. With melting ice caps, people are obviously determined to visit these areas before they disappear.

The intensity and frequency of weather events are also increasing. In recent years, the severity of hurricanes hitting the Caribbean, Central and North America has increased These events will result in loss of land and infrastructure, negatively impacting species living in the area but may also deter tourists from visiting. Simpson et al. (2007*) have conducted extensive research in Tobago on the impact of climate change on tourism in the area. The three main observed effects were found to be:

  1. Changes in weather patterns; rainfall patterns causing seasonality blurring and; increase in intensity of extreme events such as storm surges and hurricanes
  2. Coastal erosion of beaches and cliffs
  3. Coral bleaching (Simpson et al., 2007*).

To reduce the impact of climate change on nature tourism it is necessary not only to adapt but to mitigate causal effects. Simpson et al. (2007*) discuss research, planning, management and action that is required to reduce, and mitigate, the potential impact that climate change will have on nature tourism in Tobago. Many of the suggestions require action before the planning or construction stage where this is still possible. A crucial interdependence exists between the climate, the environment, tourism and communities (Simpson et al., 2007). Sustainable, responsible tourism policies should be implemented and integrated into local, regional and national government strategies. Government policy plays a very important role in the development of tourism industries that are financially and ecologically sustainable (Eagles, 2001*). Many natural zones cross administrative and political boundaries and this must be taken into account when developing ecotourism. Without having all nations that border an area involved, conflicts will be unavoidable.

Once the drivers and trends are understood, it is necessary for policy makers, planners and managers to have some knowledge and understanding of the likely changes in behaviour and demand that may affect specific areas. This is the field of visitor monitoring which, while established first in the U.S.A. has become an important tool in Europe. The next section reviews some of the systems used to assess and monitor changes in recreation behaviour and for assessing changes in visitor demand.

2.3 Monitoring changes in recreation behaviour and assessing changes in demand

The need for national level information about recreation demand was already recognised forty years ago in the United States. The first National Recreation Survey (NRS) was conducted in 1960 (Cordell, 2004*). The continuity of a core set of participation and demographic questions used in surveys since then has ensured that trend construction and comparisons of recreation at the level of the U.S. population over the years have been possible. Similar efforts have been taking place in other countries such as Canada, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden but the contents and extent of the nationwide recreation surveys varies considerably. Without such surveys it is very difficult to calculate the level of resources needed to supply recreation, or to determine the way that trends resulting from the factors described above manifest themselves in demand. The surveys enable providers of outdoor recreation to change their strategies to meet the challenges of these changing demands.

The latest National Survey of Recreation and Environment (NSRE) 2006, recently completed in the United States, includes information collection about recreation participation and recreation trips, covering 50 different outdoor activities (see NSRE, 2003*). In Scandinavia, Denmark has conducted a series of recreation surveys which offer the possibility to compare forest recreation participation over time: Danish surveys cover the overall levels of visitation to forests, and include a remarkable set of data about forest and landscape preferences (Jensen and Koch, 2004*). The survey in 1993/94 reached a response rate of over 80%, from samples of almost 3,000 persons (Jensen and Koch, 2004).

In Finland, only one nation-wide recreation survey (LVVI, see Sievänen, 2001*) has been conducted but there are plans to repeat the study in 2008–2010. The Finnish survey data included about 10,000 respondents. The main issues measured were participation in outdoor activities, recreation trips close-to-home and trips which also included an overnight stay (Sievänen, 2001*). However, while there are many differences in concepts, terms and units of measurements, some international comparisons are possible. In Table 1, participation rates of some of the most typical recreation activities in six countries have been collected to express the diversity, similarity and differences of recreation behaviour among different nations (Scrintzi et al., 1995*; Jensen and Koch, 1997*; Statistics Netherlands, 1997*; Cordell et al., 1999*; DuWors et al., 1999*; Sievänen, 2001*; Vaage, 2004*). The idea of harmonizing approaches for recreation information monitoring, so that international comparisons can be made and so that Europe-level analysis is possible, has been discussed in the research community, particularly in the Cost Action E33. It will be seen if more comparable data is available in future.

Table 1: Participation rates in some recreation activities in six European countries, Canada and the United States in the 1990s and 2000s.

Recreation activity

Participation rate in %

































Jogging, running
























Picking berries and other ‘forest fruits’





Picking wild mushrooms





Cross-country horseback riding








Studying and enjoying nature





Cross-country skiing






a) A mail questionnaire regarding forest recreation on a sample of 2,826 of the Danish adult population in 1993–94, conducted by the Danish Forest & Landscape Research Institute. (Jensen and Koch, 1997*)

b) A telephone survey, sample of 12,709 among the whole population conducted by Statistics Finland and Finnish Forest Research Institute in 1998–2000 (Sievänen, 2001*).

c) A diary survey by Statistics Netherlands (CBS) in 1995–96 (Statistics Netherlands, 1997).

d) A mail questionnaire on sample of 3,000 of the whole Italian population in 1995; recreation activities in forest (Scrintzi et al., 1995).

e) (Vaage, 2004)

f) The Nature Survey, sample of 86,951 Canadians by Statistics Canada in 1997 (DuWors et al., 1999).

g) NSRE telephone survey of sample of 12,000 people in 1994/95 (Cordell et al., 1997*).

    Empty space refers that a comparable figure was not available.

2.4 On-site inventories: monitoring visitor flows

On-site recreation inventories, i.e. visitation monitoring systems, are an important part of the whole management policy of recreation and protected areas in many countries. The recreation monitoring system most often applied is a science-based system for data collection, data management and reporting, which supplies updated visitor information on a continuous basis for policy makers and managers. Monitoring systems differ between countries, but often standardization of methods and harmonization of information content has taken place within one country or at least within one public land agency.

The most common visitation information measured includes number of visits, duration of visit and distribution of visitors over the recreation area. Information gathered from visitors usually consists of socio-economic factors such as sex, age, income and municipality/region/country of residence, length and means of travel and amount of money spent. Visitor behaviour patterns describe the level and type of participation in recreation activities, the length of stay in the area and the make up of the group who made the visit. Visitor satisfaction, motives and the expectations of visit and experiences are also studied in most cases. As a result of Nordic-Baltic project on visitor monitoring a new manual (Kajala, 2006; Kajala et al., 2007) is going to be published in 2007. The coming manual offer recommenadations to choose variable, measures and sample methods for visitor monitoring.

The United States Forest Service has implemented a sophisticated on-site visitor monitoring system called the National Visitor Use Monitoring System (NVUM). With this system, one fourth of the 160 national forests in the country are sampled each year through a system of site-day sampling. Activities, duration of visit, satisfaction, trip spending profiles and sites visited are collected and GIS referenced to provide location-specific, regional, and national estimates to guide policy, management, maintenance, budgeting and customer responsiveness (English et al., 2002).

Table 2: Number of visits in Finland’s national parks over the years 1996–2005. Source: Metsähallitus (2006), Finland.

Year Number of visits

1996 714,000
1997 749,000
1998 771,000
1999 787,000
2000 833,000
2001 852,000
2002 1,012,000
2003 1,123,000
2004 1,285,000
2005 1,410,000

In Denmark, automatic monitoring of the car-based forest visitation at four selected forest areas was established in the mid 70’s and has been going on ever since. In addition, on-site inventories have been carried out in more than 300 forest areas in 1976–77 and again in 1996–97 in more than 500 Danish forest and nature areas (Jensen and Koch, 1997). In the United Kingdom, visitor counting and surveys are also widely applied and used in planning and management processes. Finland has standardized visitor study procedures in order to obtain comparable visitor information from all state owned recreation and protected areas (Erkkonen and Sievänen, 2002; Rauhala et al., 2002). The national recreation management policy uses visitor surveys in order to develop customer-driven management in recreation areas. In many other European countries, even though a majority (85%) has conducted some studies about recreational visits to specific recreational sites, systematic and standardized visitor information collection systems are still in a developmental stage (Skov-Petersen and Jensen, 2005).

An example of trends based on systematic visitor counting in national parks comes from Finland. The Metsähallitus (Forest and Park Service), which manages the majority of state owned forest lands in Finland, has monitored recreational use in national parks and state owned hiking areas for over ten years (Table 2). It shows how the basic trend is for an increased level of visitation. The pattern varies across each park and this enables the identification of places where visitor levels start to place pressure on natural resources, for example, or those locations that are particularly sensitive to recreation activities.

2.5 Trends in recreation participation

The science based information of existing trends in recreation behaviour is best documented in the United States, where monitoring of participation in outdoor activities has continued since early 1960’s. According to Cordell et al. (1999); Cordell (2004*, 2005*) and the Interagency National Survey Consortium (NSRE, 2003*), participation in all outdoor activities has been increasing when measured in terms of the total numbers of participating people (Table 3). This increase in total participation rates is partly due to the increasing population. However, the numbers of visits and visiting people matters when looking at the pressures of recreational use on natural resources, which tend to be finite.

Table 3: Measured changes in 1982–2002 and forecasting rate of change in outdoor recreation participation 2010–2050 in the United States. Sources: a) Cordell et al. (1997), b) NSRE (2003), c) Cordell (2004*).

Participants, millions

Index of forecast c)

1982 a)

1994 b)

2002 c)






Cross-country skiing









Downhill skiing













































Camping primitive




































Motor boating









Horseback riding









In the United States, most rapidly increasing numbers of participants are in walking, sightseeing, swimming, picnicking and boating. In general, traditional outdoor activities such hiking and camping are still growing at a moderate rate, while consumptive activities such as hunting are declining. New types of activities such as viewing fish and wildlife and motorized outdoor activities such as snowmobiling or jet skiing are activities that are increasing most in popularity (Cordell, 2005*). Table 4 shows these trends.

Table 4: Expected changes in popularity of outdoor activities in future (Cordell, 2004, 2005*).

Fastest growing activities Slowest growing activities

Kayaking Motor-boating
Snowboarding Primitive camping
Jet skiing Sailing
View or photograph fish Visit historic sites
Snow-mobiling Downhill skiing
Ice Fishing Snorkeling/scuba
Sledding Visit beach/waterside
View wildlife Anadromous fishing
Backpacking Caving
Day hiking Small game hunting
Bicycling Migratory bird hunting
Horseback riding Picnicking
Canoeing Warm-water fishing
Saltwater fishing

As in the United States, the traditional consumptive activities of hunting and picking wild berries and mushrooms seem to be in decline in popularity in Scandinavia (Lindhagen and Hörnsten, 1998; Sievänen, 2001; Sievänen et al., 2004*). Instead, snowmobiling is increasing in popularity. In most European countries there is no long term monitoring or statistics of outdoor recreation, so that it is less easy to spot these trends, but it is very likely that many of the trends that are now seen in the United States, likely to develop in Europe.

This section has shown that the assessment of behaviour and demand is essential for creating a picture of emerging patterns and trends so that policies can be developed and planning take place with the best information possible. However, it is obvious that these systems are mainly available and implemented in developed countries with often mature economies and where legislation and other instruments are available to manage supply and demand. They are less likely to be available in developing countries.

2.6 Trends in the development of nature tourism

Nature tourism is a rapidly expanding activity throughout the world which encompasses many different activities but essentially includes those which involve participants engaging with nature. The industry segment takes place in predominantly natural settings with the added emphasis of fostering understanding and conservation of the natural environment (Newsome et al., 2002*). Nature tourism can take many forms, ranging from the passive (enjoying a view, painting) to the active (white-water rafting, mountain biking) and from the consumptive (fishing, hunting) to the non-consumptive (walking, bird-watching). Ecotourism, a term that has been increasing in popularity in recent years, is one niche market within the larger nature tourism market (Halpenny and Otte, 1999). The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people” (TIES, 1991). Nature tourism has the potential to provide many opportunities, as illustrated in Figure 5*.

Stueve et al. (2002) estimated that natural areas, and their closely associated local cultures, and the various related tourist, recreational and leisure activities, contribute around half the total economic activity attributable to the travel and tourism sector. This equates to approximately US$ 340 billion in 2005. Tourism is the principle ‘export’ (foreign exchange earner) for 83% of developing countries (Mastny, 2001). Nature-based tourism diffuses economic benefits to rural or peripheral regions because the main natural and heritage attractions are often away from urban or industrial areas.

2.7 Potential benefits of nature tourism to communities

Many private, public and community landholders are turning to nature tourism as a profitable adjunct or replacement for farming, forestry or fisheries. In the past, the main function of forests in Europe was that of wood production. Today, in many European countries that are largely forested nature tourism is increasingly seen as an important chance to diversify the means of livelihood in rural areas (Tyrväinen et al., 2002). With the decline in the importance of this as a management goal in many regions, nature tourism is often looked upon as a means for rural development (Cost Action E33, 2004a*), see Figure 5*. Though there is also the danger of negative impacts; severe pressures on many forest areas in danger of being degraded ecologically and physically due to high recreational use (Cost Action E33, 2004a*).

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Figure 5: Potential benefits resulting from Nature Tourism.

The possibilities and interest of developing nature tourism vary between European countries. In Finland, almost 80% of the population live in urban environments and, in 2004, 40% of the adult population took nature trips equating to an average of nine trips per person per year (Silvennoinen and Tyrväinen, 2001). Currently, nature tourism businesses are often relatively small scale and mostly part-time enterprises combined with agriculture and forests. In some area such as in Lapland, Finland nature tourism is already the most important sector contributing the regional economy (Tyrväinen, 2006). Furthermore, new forests are also being established with public recreation very much in mind, often close to large centres of urban population (Cost Action E33, 2004a).

Tourism based on natural environments is an increasing international industry with major economic, social and environmental consequences at both local and global scales (Buckley, 2003). Many of the conflicts emerging as a result of nature tourism differ between developing and more developed countries. People in developing countries who live in areas that are often most attractive to nature or eco-tourists often rely on products, services, or land from natural areas, to meet their livelihood needs (Salafsky and Wollenberg, 2000*). In these situations, demand on resources can conflict with conservation or tourism requirements. Incursions into protected areas, whether for wildlife poaching or subsistence hunting, are commonplace. Moreover, tourism may create a dependency on a volatile, seasonal industry and it may conflict with other livelihood activities such as fishing or agriculture (Ashley et al., 2000). In largely forested countries in northern Europe tourism industry competes with commercial forestry and timber production. Salafsky and Wollenberg (2000*) developed a conceptual framework for defining the linkage between livelihood activities and conservation. They found that if there is a direct linkage, so that livelihoods are dependent on biodiversity, or where the local community benefits economically, they are more likely to taken action to counter threats to resources (Salafsky and Wollenberg, 2000).

There are a number of common strategies required to develop successful nature tourism operations irrespective of region or country. The European Commission produced a comprehensive report that detailed and developed fifteen principles for the management of rural tourism (European Commission, 2000*) that can be adapted and applied to nature tourism. The document also contains information on the components of good practice for rural tourism. Three of the areas for which guidance was provided concerned working together to a strategy, delivering a quality (rural) tourism experience and strengthening quality management and monitoring processes (European Commission, 2000).

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Figure 6: A hiking path in Halkidiki in Greece provides opportunities for nature tourism.

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