J. Sancho1, F. Escobar1, M. Carbajo2

1 - Universidad de Alcala, Departamento de Geografia, Spain

2 - National Geographic Institute, Spain


Tourism constitutes a key element of Spanish economic structure; up to 14% of the PIB comes from activities directly related to tourism. Growing figures on international tourist visit have reached over 55 million in 2005. In addition, domestic tourism is also increasingly significant which results on evident traces over the territory.

All Spanish coastal areas and particularly Mediterranean coast and the archipelagos of Balearic and Canary Islands support most part of tourist activities. This is a sun and beach tourist-based industry which advantages of favourable natural resources.

In parallel to this kind of tourism, rural tourism is rapidly developing during the last decades. Inland Spain is home of rural areas whose natural and cultural heritage are extraordinary valuable. At the same time, a significant share of tourist demand is addressed towards alternative and high quality products closely linked to natural and cultural values in rural territories. More than 11,000 rural accommodation facilities possessing a capacity of 100,000 beds are frequented by more than 3 million people every year.

Rural tourism is already a reality with an outstanding weight in Spain and it is envisaged a high growth in the short term. European Union promotes for the rural world a role as tourist space, contributing this way to its economical diversification, social revitalization and to the improvement of its heritage, landscape and preservation.

The structure of the National Tourist Atlas of Spain for the Rural and Natural Environment responds to a double criteria: general presentation and regional approach. First, for the whole of the country, natural, landscape and cultural resources in rural territories are presented to a scale of 1:3,000,000. Second, the cartographic information related to tourist infrastructures is compiled. Lastly, in a third section, the impact of rural development policies for the promotion of depressed rural areas is analysed.

The regional approach takes as referent spatial unit the 17 Spanish Autonomous Regions. In each of them, at a more detailed scale, tourist resources are represented and itineraries or routes to be undertaken by tourists are proposed. The Atlas includes about 150 thematic maps, numerous photographs, satellite images and a carefully written text to achieve a better understanding of the rural tourism. The direction and coordination of this piece of work, involving more than 30 specialised staff members, had lied on the Department of Geography of the University of Alcalá and the Thematic Cartography and National Atlas Area of the Spanish National Geographic Institute.