In recent decades, there has been a rapid growth in the demand for leisure use of the countryside. Nowadays, most European rural areas can supply available resources and good qualitative conditions for sustainable tourism and outdoor recreation. According to the objectives of the European Commission, this new reality could promote regional development and assist in restructuring local economies.
The success of development policies will depend on a careful approach and on a well defined tourism planning. Common policies and public investments promoting the protection of the natural and cultural heritage are a field with significant potential for social and economic development in rural communities.
This research project aims at improving the sustainable tourism competitiveness and the quality of life in the European rural territories, especially those included in the less-favoured regions. This is the case of Cantabria. If tourism is to improve the welfare of the local communities and the environment of rural areas, then there is a real need for research on rural tourism planning and policies.