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The tourism industry is facing nowadays a wide range of issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic or accentuated by it. The dramatic decline in tourist flows in every destination forced stakeholders to rethink the actual model of business and to adapt to the new reality. The need for social distancing and the fear of tourists to visit crowded places prepared the field for more sustainable tourist activity, based on green products and services. In this context, new and innovative products like rural wellness tourism can take momentum and offer the visitors the opportunity of spending the free time in nature, in less polluted areas and with a higher impact of health.
Italy is one of the most representative tourist destinations worldwide, with a wide range of attractions that make both urban and rural spots to be visited annually by millions of tourists. Tourism also supports the local economy and helps local communities from less developed regions to diversify their sources of income, as is the case of Puglia region, known for its agricultural potential. Puglia is one of the Italian regions where local authorities encourage the development of tourist activities, especially those specific to the ecotourism niche, as a real alternative to agriculture. In the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic, ecotourism can represent the solution for a faster economic recovery of the southern region of the country that was dramatically affected by the lockdown imposed by the authorities in the first part of 2020. Based on the wellness tradition from the region and the international reputation of the Termes from this area, Puglia region can develop the concept of rural wellbeing tourism and promote a more sustainable tourist model.
The present paper analyses the potential of Puglia region to introduce in its offer rural wellbeing tourism packages taking into account the profile of a spa and thermal center in the area in terms of structure and business model. The results were obtained by applying a structured questionnaire in one of the most representative thermal units in the region and the answers were interpreted using Qualitative Content Analysis. The results show that Puglia region could thrive the concept of rural wellbeing tourism and adapt it to the particularities of the area. Adopting such an innovative tourist concept that is based on a sustainable way to explore natural resources would have a significant impact on Italian tourism by creating a new trend among tourists. In this regard, the guests will have another opportunity to spend their holidays more sustainably, with a considerably lower impact on the environment.
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