Participative planning approaches are vital to sustainable development in rural areas. However, stakeholder involvement also faces many barriers. In this Danube region case study, barriers to stakeholder involvement across eight rural regions are investigated. With the standardized conditions provided through an ERDF and IPA funded EU project, special attention could be paid to socio-cultural barriers, specifically concerning perception of sustainability and conflicts of interest. The effects of these barriers to the planning process are seen in the comparison of awareness concerning overall goals, indicators and the regional self-assessments. The implications for planning and management in rural tourism areas find that the perception of sustainability varies greatly, perceived deficiencies increase awareness and that crucial indicators need to be understood by stakeholders beginning a participative planning approach.