Outdoor Recreation and Nature Tourism:
A European Perspective
Recreation and nature tourism are increasingly important activities with many implications both economic and environmental. As society changes so the demands and trends for recreation and nature tourism change and develop. This poses many challenges for planners and managers of recreational areas and providers of services. This review article focuses on the situation in Europe but does not ignore some major trends and issues arising elsewhere, while much of the research can be traced back to ideas and methods developed elsewhere, such as the U.S.A. To set the scene the main social and environmental trends are presented that show how the changing nature of society feeds through in expectations and demands for recreation and nature tourism. Demographic changes, consumer behaviour and the increasingly mobile and connected lifestyles of European citizens have produced trends for outdoor recreation preferences and for broadening travel horizons. Knowing about these trends enables planners and entrepreneurs to change their recreation or tourism offer to meet these demands. However, these demands have to be seen in the context of changing pressures and sensitivities of the environments, frequently natural, in which recreation and nature tourism activities are located. Climate change is a prime example of these pressures. Many countries have developed sophisticated survey and other monitoring tools and instruments to identify demand, to monitor levels and types of activity, changing preferences and pressures on the environment. While recreation is often led by demand from people who wish to participate in certain activities there are also increasingly well recognised benefits to health and well-being from closer contact with nature. Policy makers in the health sphere are taking a keen interest in this and in the means for encouraging sedentary populations to engage with physical activity in natural environments. The evidence base for this is improving and is reviewed in this paper. Management of environments and visitors produces many conflicts which must be resolved. Recent surveys of forest recreation have enabled a European-wide pattern to be identified which will help planners and managers identify issues to be considered. The paper draws on work being undertaken as part of two EU funded Cost Actions: “Cost E33: Forest Recreation and Nature Tourism” and “Cost E39: Forests, Trees and Human Health and Well-being”. These allow experts from around Europe to network and to pool research and practice.