Ecotourism in the wider rural context
Faced with the scenario of declining agricultural incomes over recent decades in Europe, rural tourism has been viewed as something of a silver bullet: as Hall and Page (1999: 195) describe, ‘a panacea for solving all the economic and social ills of the countryside’, and has consequently been widely inserted into rural development strategies. The significance of tourism to rural development in Europe was recognized, for example, by successive LEADER local rural development programmes. European Union (EU) LEADER programmes [I] 1991-94; [II] 1995-99; and [+] 2000-2006 all emphasized rural tourism as a means of economic diversification, for example, in LEADER I over one-third of European projects were tourismrelated (Sharpley 2002), and 44 per cent of LEADER I funded projects in Ireland were associated with rural tourism, accounting for 50 per cent of the LEADER funds directed to Ireland at that time (Hall and Page 1999). Widespread support for rural tourism throughout Europe was reflected by structural funding programmes ‘as a means of addressing the socioeconomic challenges facing industries in peripheral rural regions’ (Sharpley and Craven 2001: 528).