Rural Tourism Development in Latvia
Asnate Ziemele, president of Latvian Country
General Facts about Latvia
Latvia is situated in the Northeast of Europe, in the middle of the three
Baltic States on the shores of the Baltic See. Latvia is bordering with
Lithuania and Estonia as well as with Russia and Belarus. The territory
of Latvia is 64.589 sq. km and the population is 2.351.400. The capital
of Latvia is Riga, where almost half of the whole country's population
is living. The population density in Latvia is one of the smallest in
Europe - 36 persons per sq. km. Latvia's main tourism attractions are
the capital Riga, the beautiful unspoiled nature and the live traditions
reflecting in the great celebrations and events.
Latvian Country Tourism Association
LCTA "Lauku celotajs", founded in 1993, is a non-governmental,
non-profit organization associating 250 members (~3800 bed places) - owners
of rural tourism accommodations and attractions in Latvia. Association's
membership: EUROGITES (European Federation of Farm and Village Tourism,
(European Centre for Eco Agro Tourism).
Association's main activities
Latvian Country Tourism Association is working with three main target-groups:
providers, customers and the public sector.
1) Rural tourism (RT) providers (maintain RT database, run the
Quality scheme, inspect, grade and label properties, train and consult
providers, organise provider assemblies, supply professional information
in regular newsletters and http://www.traveller.lv/prof2_en1.html);
2) Customers (RT website www.traveller.lv
with search and reservation options, reservation office, catalogues, guides,
3) Public sector (co-operation with European RT comunity, implementation
of EU (LIFE, PHARE, Leonardo da Vinci programmes) and national projects,
lobbying RT on national level, etc.)
The main aim of the Association is to promote and facilitate sustainable
rural tourism development, which means creating new jobs, preserving rural
landscape, encouraging responsible employment of local resources, creating
market for farm produce, basic or additional farm income, local and state
Number of the Association's members and bed places (1994-2002)
The provider target group includes the current and potential members of
the Association. The Association's activities aimed at providers are the
- Collection of information about the rural tourism accommodations in
Latvia (also Lithuania and Estonia) and maintaining a common rural tourism
- Development of quality criteria and grading of rural tourism establishments.
- On-site inspections and consultations for RT entrepreneurs.
- Assignation of the national eco-label "Green Certificate".
- Training and consulting rural tourism providers in Latvia in entrepreneurship,
product development & promotion and quality improvement. Publication
of training materials.
- Informing the providers about topical issues in rural tourism through
the special section http://www.traveller.lv/prof2_en1.html
for provider in the rural tourism web site and through regular newsletters.
The customer target group includes the travel agents and the end-consumers
- tourists from Latvia and abroad.
The main target markets of the rural tourism product
in Latvia are (Statistics of 2002):
- Local market covering 69% of the bed-nights
- Foreign market covering 31% bed-nights including such countries as Germany,
Finland, UK, USA, The Netherlands, Estonia, Lithuania and other.
Foreign tourists in the countryside of Latvia divided
by countries (2002)
The main rural tourism products of the Association
- Accommodations in the countryside and small towns of Latvia, Lithuania
- Country homes (B&B)
- Self-catering vacation cottages
- Guest houses and small hotels
- Active-, eco- and agri-tours through the Baltic States for groups and
- Horse riding
- Agricultural study tours
The Association is selling the upper mentioned
products through the following sales-channels:
- Publications - the Association is publishing the following publications
in Latvian, English, German and Russian:
- The annual catalogue "Country Holidays" featuring rural tourism
accommodations in the Baltic States.
- The publication series "Green Holidays" featuring accommodations
as well as other tourism attractions in the countryside of Latvia, specially
focusing on sustainable tourism.
- Internet - the Association owns and regularly updates the rural tourism
web site www.traveller.lv
featuring the accommodations, tourist attractions and tour programs in
the countryside of the Baltic States. There is a search and reservation
system in the web site. The average number of visits to the web site per
day is ~500.
- Reservation office - the Association is running a reservation office,
which receives approximately 10-50 customer requests per day.
- Tour operator service - Association owns a business company for all
the commercial activities - selling group and individual tours http://www.baltic.traveller.lv
- Other - Association does regular roundmailing to inform the customers
and mass media about the latest rural tourism products in the Baltic States.
The Association takes part in national and international travel fairs.
3. Public sector
The public sector target group includes the governmental institutions
and NGOs of Latvia influencing rural tourism issues, EU institutions,
rural tourism organizations in Europe and other stakeholders.
The main activities of the Association in the public sector are related
to networking and cooperation:
- Lobbying in national level - participation in discussions on new legislation,
representing the interests of rural tourism entrepreneurs. The Association
is member of the Latvian Advisory Tourism Board and Latvian Council of
- Development of a common Baltic rural tourism strategy in cooperation
with rural tourism organizations in Lithuania and Estonia.
- Cooperation with European rural tourism community - the Association
is a member of the European Federation of Farm and Village Tourism "Eurogites"
since 1996 and European Council of Eco Agro Tourism ECEAT - since 2002.
- Organization of seminars and international conferences on topics, which
affect the development of rural tourism.
- Implementation and participation in EU and national projects concerning
development of rural tourism. There are the following EU projects currently
being implemented by the Association
- Development and implementation of the national eco-label "Green
Certificate" for rural tourism accommodations within the EC LIFE
environment program co-financed project (2001-2004). Currently 50 accommodations
are eco-labeled in Latvia. A special project web site has been developed
within the project http://eco.traveller.lv
featuring the project documents as well as special information section
for providers, tourists and mass media.
- The project "New approach to training for quality in European rural
tourism" (2002-2004) carried out with the support of the EU Leonardo
da Vinci program invites to arrive at common understanding of rural tourism
quality in Europe based on similarities (common criteria) in European
rural tourism quality schemes and finding out expectations of international
customers. The project will create a web-based tool for inspector training
and provider self-evaluation and offer a neutral methodology for benchmarking
the varied rural tourism quality systems in Europe. The tool will be accessible
on the web and it will also serve as a reference for rural tourism organizations
developing new quality systems. Project web site http://www.traveller.lv/Leonardo_en.htm
- EU PHARE programme project: "A Common Development Strategy of Rural
Tourism in the Baltic countries - an Open Source Information System for
Small and Micro Enterprises in Rural Areas" (2003-2004) is aimed
at development of common open source information and reservation system
primarily for the Baltic countries, but easily adaptable for use in other
pre-accession countries. RTME specific multi language design, web based
interface, source code accessibility, license free deployment platform
are all highlights of the system. One of the main results will be stronger
integration of the Baltic RT, such as common marketing, data standards,
cross country data analysis as well as common platform for future development
Project web site http://www.celotajs.lv/Phare_en.htm
Latvian eco-labeling project
"Development of the criteria for the "Green Certificate",
implementation and control in rural areas and small towns in Latvia"
is being implemented by the Latvian Country Tourism Association, financially
supported by the EC LIFE program and the Latvian Environment Protection
Fund. Project duration: October 5, 2001 to September 30, 2004.
The aim of the project is to develop environment friendly tourism in rural
areas and small towns, providing for: protection of ecosystems and biological
diversity, preservation of natural landscapes, cultural and historical
heritage, rational use of natural resources, prevention and control of
environment pollution and disturbance and life quality improvement of
the local communities.
What is the "Green Certificate"? The "Green Certificate"
(GC) is an eco-label assigned to the vacation sites: country houses, vacation
cottages, guest houses and camping in the countryside and small towns
of Latvia, which save natural resources and use them rationally, offer
environment friendly tourist activities, healthy, locally produced food
and extensive information on the local natural, cultural and historical
attractions. GC is one of few European eco-labels dealing exclusively
with small-scale accommodation. Important is that this eco-label is being
assigned not only for the environmental friendly practices, but also for
the high quality of tourism services! (Saving water resources should not
mean lack of water for guests, saving soap powder should not mean dirty
bedclothes!) So the GC keyword is balance between tourism service and
Why do we need an eco-label? Rural tourism establishments in Latvia are
rather small and not able to do powerful individual marketing on the national,
Baltic and European level. The GC is a tool, which can help tourists to
find information on the vacation properties offering eco-tourism products
and guarantee particular quality standards. Talking about environmental
situation, Latvia in comparison with many other European countries does
not have to worry about: "How to rehabilitate", the problem
is: "How to preserve"! The rural tourism providers should understand
and believe in the "green" idea: feel the balance between capacity,
tourist flow and profit - that is the reason why an eco-label is so important!
Sometimes "more" is "less", if tourism providers will
understand it, Latvia will be one of few countries offering a real and
natural rural tourism.
How does the "Green Certificate" support the tourism providers?
The GC provides for:
Recognition by domestic and foreign guests through specific marketing
activities: different information materials (the series "Green Holidays",
catalogue "Country Holidays", leaflets, posters, stickers, distributed
in international travel trade fairs), information about GC vacation properties
in Association's web site www.traveller.lv and in a special GC project
web site http://eco.traveller.lv,
video featuring the GC vacation properties, regular information supply
to Latvian and foreign mass media and participation in international eco-label
associations and advertisement in international eco-tourism publications
(press, brochures and web sites).
Education about rational use of resources, environment-friendly construction
and top quality achievement through different training materials, local
seminars and international conferences.
Use of the GC logo, an affirmation of a high quality environment friendly
rural tourism product, for the promotion of the vacation site's services
in various publications, media etc.
What does the "Green Certificate" offer to tourists? The GC
helps to recognize specific eco-tourism products, guarantees high quality
of tourism service and gives the possibility to contribute to the sustainable
After studying the environmental situation in vacation properties in Latvia
and accumulating the European eco-labeling experience the GC criteria
was developed, the National Certification Commission was set up and the
certification of the vacation properties in Latvia was started.
To promote environment friendly practices a special GC project web site
http://eco.celotajs.lv with information chapters for tourism providers,
tourists and mass media was created. 4 international conferences on sustainable
tourism questions are organized during the project (the second will take
place on 24.01.2003). The Association takes part in different international
travel trade fairs and there is also an active co-operation with international
environment and tourism organizations (the Association is member in ECEAT,
Within the project each GC vacation property has to work out an environmental
plan, in which providers estimate environmental impact of their properties
according to a set of environmental indicators, formulate the environmental
protection goal, define the environment protection measures and set deadline
for their implementation. According to the plan providers can achieve
rational and economical use of water and energy resources, reduce environment
pollution with waste and sewage and raise environmental awareness of the
staff and visitors.
Until the end of the year 2002 there will be 5 training materials for
tourism providers published: "Biological diversity and its preservation",
"Nature friendly tourist activities", "Environment friendly
building and furnishing materials in rural tourism", "Sustainable
use of natural resources - hints for rural tourism providers", "Latvian
festivities and traditions in rural tourism offer".
In spring 2003 4 different type vacation properties will be selected as
demonstration sites. The demo sites will develop and implement their environmental
plans. A video will be made featuring environment protection activities
of the demo sites and these sites will host experience exchange seminars
to familiarize other rural tourism providers with environment friendly
Expected project results
In environmental field there will be a comprehensive review of the existing
situation in rural tourism in Latvia available, environmental control
system implemented in vacation properties and awareness, reduction and
control of the negative environmental impact improved.
As an economic result there is expected a preservation of nature and sustainable
tourism development, reduction of operational costs for vacation properties
due to economical use of resources and development of the production and
processing sector in rural areas due to the use of locally manufactured
building materials and local foods.
Finally, GC will maintain a positive image as offering a high quality,
personal service product in contrast to mass tourism. Domestic and international
tourists will increasingly recognize GC as a sign of environmental quality
and quality of their holidays, and RT providers will show increasing environmental
awareness and will strive to meet the eco-labeling criteria.
Conclusion - problems in eco-labeling process
For an eco-label itself to be sustainable international co-operation and
recognition is necessary. National eco-labels should incorporate internationally
valid, comparable criteria and, at the same time, to be relevant in the
national context, ensure protection and maintenance of the national environmental
There should be a balance between environmental and tourism service quality.
Eco-label should be equal to quality label also for tourist services,
which is not ensured by the most of the eco-labels now days, because the
inspectors usually do not check the necessary minimum tourist quality
criteria's. That creates threats for eco-label brand name and decrease
demand and trust of tourists.
Co-operation and understanding between tourism and environmental specialists
is a must. It is not a secret that environmental protectionists often
regard tourism as a threat to nature and they actively campaign against
tourism development. Co-operation and finding a common language between
these two sectors would rather help to direct tourism development (which
is inevitable, anyway) along the path of sustainability and avoid danger
and damage to environment. Eco-labels, where needs of both - tourism development
and environment protection - are taken into account, can be a useful and
practical tool for finding and attaining common goals.
Important is also the co-operation between tourism providers and tourists.
Tourists should be educated step by step, and that is a task of aware
tourism providers. The rural tourist will exist, as long as there will
be balance between offer and demand, capacity and tourist movement. As
the Association is an organization between these both groups, it is easier
for us to guide the process in the right direction - the direction of
You are welcome to our next International conference
in Latvia - June 2004. Follow the information in the web site: