New patterns are emerging in the tourism demand with a growing sensitivity for environmental features. As a consequence, areas with significant natural heritage have been obtaining an important role as tourism destinations. However, the lack of research about the current and potential market of these areas, as well as the growing heterogeneity of the tourism market, have posed challenges in the domain of the development of tourism in these natural areas. One of the greatest difficulties is to assess the economic viability of development of tourism in these areas. Another problem is identifying more suitable development strategies for satisfying the diverse potential market segments of these areas.
In this paper we present an analysis of the market of five Portuguese areas that possess significant natural heritage. This market showed much motivation for appreciating the landscape and observing nature, as well as escaping from daily routine. Although visitors liked to engage in a large range of activities, including boat trips and visiting cultural heritage, their preferred activities were observing nature, walking and visiting protected areas. This market seems to have a significant potential in terms of economic impacts given the following features: the existence of segments with high income; the interest in a wide variety of activities; the high number of visitors using commercial accommodation; and the high expenditures in certain types of services (e.g. related to food and beverage). Significant differences were noticed among different age segments, namely in terms of motivations, activities pursued and accommodation used. Oldest people were more interested in cultural heritage, whereas the remaining visitors had a greater preference for active tourism (e.g. canoeing and mountain biking). In addition, younger segments preferred camping, whereas the older ones were more interested in staying in hotels.
This study provides a good perspective of the profile of the market of some Portuguese areas with significant natural heritage. This research shows that visitors to these kinds of areas may generate significant economic benefits that could improve the local economy. However, it seems that economic impacts could be maximized, namely by improving public transportation and opportunities for renting equipment related to activities that could be practiced in these areas. This research also reveals that, in order to increase the tourism potential of natural areas, it is important to develop different tourism products and different promotional programs for different age segments.