Design and development of touristic products Main author: Gábor Michalkó Szilvia Boros, János Csapó, Éva Happ, Pál Horváth, Anikó Husz, Mónika Jónás-Beri, Katalin Lőrinc, Andrea Máté, Gábor Michalkó, Erzsébet Printz-Markó, Krisztina Priszinger, Tamara



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II. Theme routes

9. Preliminaries from tourism history

The cultural historical preliminaries of theme routes lead us back to the ancient times, when several “cultural theme routes” were born during the development of the travel industry. Among the cultural routes, pilgrimages are of selected importance, as they were the most important theme routes in the Medieval Times. In the New Era, a growing number of the nobility and a part of the bourgeois class were involved in visits to the well-known destinations of Western Europe in the framework of a cultural route. In the first half of the 20th century, as a consequence of the growing popularity of active tourism, routes were designated all over Europe (the most famous of which in Hungary is probably the National Blue Hiking Trail whose full length was designated in 1953). Wine routes were also born in the fist half of 20th century in Pfalz, followed by others along the Rhine River and then making a network all over the continent. The Route of St. of James Compostela is considered the first cultural route (being one of the most visited holy places in the Medieval Times, already), which was officially declared a theme route in 1987 by the Council of Europe (this is when the European Institute of Cultural Routes was founded in Luxembourg). Theme routes that are the most popular today were founded in the 1990s, but the number of their visitors has been growing at an extremely rapid pace since the early 2000s, only. Popular routes are film tourism routes (the first being Sex and the City founded 1999), cultural routes (e.g. the Loire Valley Chateaus route) and geotourism routes (like the Geopark network founded in 1997). In their interpretation, a cultural route is a theme route whose topic is based on culture. A feature of complex geotourism is that in addition to geological heritage they also introduce values of biology, anthropology, ethnography and other cultural and historical values. Film tourism consists of theme routes linking the shooting premises of well known film hits and attraction elements related to film series.  

In Hungary the initiatives for the foundation of the first theme route were made after the systemic change (the Baroque Route was the first to be admitted among the cultural routes by the Council of Europe), renowned routes now in Hungary are the Villány-Siklós Wine Route (1994), but the majority of these routes were founded after the accession of the country to the European Union, using Hungarian state and European Union resources (Palóc Route in 2005).

10. Operation of the market

In order to understand the operation of the market we have to take into consideration the demand and supply elements, parallel to emphasising the importance of the intermediary sector creating the connection between the two.

When discussing the birth of theme routes we must mention that both in Europe and Hungary, the European Union plays an outstanding role in the initial financing of the routes, offering considerable amounts of support for their establishment. The development of the theme routes is given a significant prestige by the accession to the routes of the Council of Europe, and an even greater recognition is the award of the world heritage title. The Union wishes to increase the popularity of European culture by awarding the support, securing the primacy of Europe among the tourism macro-regions of the world. On the other hand, the strengthening of the European identity and the mediation of the basic values of the Council of Europe also play a significant role.

The operation of the market also involves the 3 groups of the theme routes, as there are visited, less visited and absolutely unknown routes among them. Unfortunately the latter category is most typical in Hungary (and their number is still increasing), for which it is partly the operational incompetence of the mediating sector to blame. Of course the competition among the regions for the creation of a larger number of theme routes is also a problem. The leading position in the number of routes is held by the region of Middle Transdanubia (40 routes counted), followed by the region of North Hungary. Regions look at the creation of theme routes as one of the most important tools of rural development, while the municipal governments do not seem to be keen on the financial support of this grandiose idea.

Among the operational features of the market we have to mention that it is in vain to continuously increase supply if this information does not reach tourists on the demand side. To improve the operation of the mediating sector, the marketing activity of the respective routes should be intensified, travel agencies should be more active in offering visited theme routes to their clients, while the state should increase the amount of supports for research and development. Unfortunately the theme routes maintained by associations and private persons lack both the financial means and the relationship systems for this, and even their cooperation is rather problematic. Also, the creation of a single image and logo are important, as is the updating and advertisement of event calendars and websites.

A characteristic feature of the theme routes is their continuous development, the routes plans described earlier (Puczkó-Rátz, 2000) have been obsolete for long. At that time the duration of the introduction of theme route was maximised at two hours, now it exceeds 3 and half hours at the film tourism theme route called Sex and the City. The number of attractions was earlier maximised at 20, now it is over 40 at the formerly mentioned film tourism theme route.

10.1. Characteristics of the supply

When discussing the demand and supply factors, we have to take into consideration that theme routes are rather different from each other (as they connect attractions of completely different types), so it is often very difficult to apply the same template for them.

Attractions and their infrastructure and suprastructure features should be separately discussed in accordance with the groupings. From among the ways of grouping theme routes can actually be categorised on geographical grounds (maybe on the basis of their catchment areas) and according to their topics. In a geographical approach we can distinguish among theme routes of local, regional, national and international catchment area. A vital element of theme routes is continuous expansion and their goal is usually to develop into a route of international recognition (if this is not the case, the very reason for the existence of the theme route can be questioned) – but it all necessitates the exploration of a good theme.

At least as important is the presence of the infrastructure and suprastructure conditions, and the continuous development of these. Transport on the theme routes requires various transport means to approach the attractions, from local public transport through bicycle and coaches to cars. The diversification of transport tools is a basic factor now, the Andrássy street in Budapest can be travelled by the Millennium Underground, but it can also be managed by bicycle, bus and car. Of course it is not possible to build out such a transport network everywhere, but it should be a conscious effort to allow the use of as many transport vehicles as possible when accessing and travelling a theme route. In the recent years we have seen a revolutionary development of communication devices and their use on the theme routes. GPS should be mentioned in this place, together with mobile phones and modern touchscreen devices.

At theme routes the primary suprastructure conditions are decisive, as secondary suprastructure conditions (retail trade, auxiliary services, money exchange places, renting facilities and personal services) only play an indirect role. Among the primary suprastructure conditions, catering facilities play an important role at local, regional, national and international levels as well, while accommodation is more important for national and international theme routes.

Classification of theme routes according to their topics

1. Cultural routes

Cultural routes include chateau routes, castle routes, pilgrimage routes, historical routes, arts routes, theme routes of film tourism, and wine and gastronomy routes (discussed separately in sub-chapter 2). Among them it is pilgrimage routes and theme routes of film tourism that attract the largest number of tourists in the world, and both are characterised by the provision of opportunity to manage the route by coach and car. Theme routes attracting millions of tourists have a significant demand for accommodation and catering facilities.

As regards attractions, the following ones can be distinguished:

– Buildings reminiscent of historical times (Chateau Route, Route of North Castles)

– Unique architectural works (Baroque Route, Secession Style buildings in Budapest hallmarked by the name of Ödön Lechner and his contemporaries)

– Scenes of historical events (Amber Route, Bunker Route)

– Stations in the lives of famous people (Liszt Route, Sissi Route , Mozart Route)

– Living spaces coming from the social division of labour (Andrássy street)

– Cultural traditions (Palóc Route, Viking Route, Route of Iron Culture, Textile Route)

– Spiritual sphere (Mary Route, Route of St. Elizabeth, Route of St. Martin)



– Works significant in cinematography history (Lord of the Rings theme route in New Zealand)




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