Monday, December 13, 2010

Collaborative cultural tourism - the Cedar Yellowpoint Artisan Association

Connecting visitors to products in rural areas can be challenging at the best of times. When it comes to arts and culture, the challenge can be even more difficult as rural areas are perhaps more known for natural tourism opportunities. But arts and culture DOES exist in rural areas, and operators out there are devising innovative ways to promote themselves and work together to connect to visitors.

I was fortunate to blend all of my worlds together this November by taking part in the Cedar Yellowpoint Artisans Christmas Tour on Nov 18 - 21. While the work side of me focuses on rural communities, sustainability and tourism, the leisure side of me is focused on arts, horses and farm life. This year, I decided to open the Broody Rooster Guesthouse and Gallery at my farm, where I display artwork, teach courses and sell gifts for six months of the year when I am at VIU, and the other six months it will be a weekly vacation rental. In order to gain profile, I applied to be a part of the Cedar Yellowpoint Artisans Association Christmas Tour, and was fortunate to get in.

While the weekend did have snow and some wicked weather, I would have to say for me - it was a resounding success. Having the opportunity to open my doors to the public, meet with customers, talk art and horses and get new ideas was great. Business was great, I sold 5 paintings, had lots of interest in the spring workshops and classes and received commissions.

I am thankful for this opportunity and recognize the value of collaborative marketing like this event for other regions of BC where artisans may not have access to this sort of an opportunity. I have decided to write a case study on this initiative using data collected from visitors at this years tour - it will be profiled in a chapter called "Cultural tourism in the rural context" in an upcoming Tourism Essentials manual (this spring - and I will be sure to post how to access it).

Thanks to the Artisans Association, in particular Justine and Grant at Yellowpoint Cranberries - for all your support, ideas and efforts.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Fresh Outlook on Sustainability

On November 15-18th, the Fresh Outlook Foundation hosting a conference on "Building Sustainable Communities" in Kelowna, BC. I had the good fortune to attend and participate in a panel with Andrew Moore (T'Sou-ke Centre for Sustainable Living) and moderated by Robert Fine (Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission). Dan Wilson, from the Whistler Centre for Sustainability was also scheduled to be on the panel but unfortunately could not make it due to illness.

Our panel was on Building a Green Economy and I spoke to some of the insights gained with Lea Thuot and our team on the Fostering Innovation in Sustainable Tourism project. Small and medium sized enterprises in tourism are already doing some incredible things to make their operations sustainable. In line with the diffusion of innovation theory (Rogers), our team suggests that by identifying these early adopters and profiling their work, we can all learn more about how to move further towards sustainability.

This conference was extremely well organized by the organization and is worth the expenditure for audiences such as community leaders and NFP associations. They offered well structured debates (on the AB Tar sands), panels, workshops and presentations mixed with plenty of space for networking. Add this one to your list for next year and check out the great work of this organization in the meantime.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Call for submissions for the rural tourism conference is open!

Well, after a few teleconferences and some great discussions with colleagues from Thompson Rivers University and the University of Northern BC, we are happy to announce that the call for submissions for the upcoming rural tourism conference is now open.

We will use the conference website - for all our updates and the details on the call are all located on the site as well.

We are hoping for a strong turnout of diverse folks that are involved in tourism development in BC's rural areas and beyond. There are opportunities for presentations, panels, workshops or other innovative formats.

Share widely with your other colleagues and we will keep you posted on registration details as we move forward.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Learning and sharing at the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation conference

Last week, after the Travel and Tourism Research Association Conference, I quickly jumped in a plane to travel to the Canadian Rural Revitalization Conference held in Brandon Manitoba from the 13-16th. Both national conferences that are of interest to me in the same week - not easy!

This was a great gathering of folks ranging from community economic development agents to policy makers to academics. All of them share the future and vitality of rural areas in common.

The sessions were great - and built on the theme of "On the Bright Side". We too often pitch rural areas with doom and gloom, ideas of crisis or conflict. I liked the theme and it allowed us to focus a bit more on solutions and things that are working for rural Canada. The keynotes encouraged us to question our assumptions and to think about new models and review the evidence for some of the methods we are currently using in rural areas.

I made two presentations at the conference - the first was titled "Gaining a rural lens through rural immersion experiences" (with colleague Dan McDonald). In this presentation, we advocated for more place-based pedagogy and for introducing rural realities to university students in all disciplines to prepare them for professional practice. Based on our experience conducting immersion tours since 2005 across rural BC and AB, we highlighted the benefits to students and also the lessons learned for those who want to apply it elsewhere. To view the presentation, CLICK HERE

The second presentation I gave was sharing the results of a recent project that I did with Kelly Whitney-Squire (Acadia) for the Canadian Rural and Cooperatives Secretariat. The title was "Amenity-based rural development: Moving forward with a typology and common language". In this presentation, I highlighted some of the core concepts to amenity based rural development and introduced the typology of Canada's rural amenities that was done in the study. To view this presentation and the typology, CLICK HERE

Conferences can be great venues to meet folks, share ideas and get your creative ideas flowing. I came back from these with all of them. At this morning's conference call on the upcoming rural tourism conference for BC - we came up with ideas to make the April conference even better - so keep tuned for more as we are just getting the call ready to go out.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

New ways of engaging residents in tourism planning

Last week, the Travel and Tourism Research Association held a conference in Quebec City to bring together researchers from across the country. I was attending to learn and also to make a presentation titled "Realigning tourism development research to support communities in transition: the potential role of participatory rural appraisal methods". Essentially, the message I was carrying was that researchers need to be using more participatory methods to get residents engaged IN research activities for tourism planning. Based on our application of the participatory rural appraisal method (PRA) in four communities in BC since 2006, I advocate that this is one we should be using more of in North America.

Many times, rural areas seek information on what their assets are, what their tourism potential is, or how to address issues. This research, in the past, is often conducted by outsiders - either researchers or consultants and in the end, a report - the traditional format of sharing results - is prepared and given back to the community. These often make their way into plans which are done by a small group of people within the community who are seen to be involved in tourism. While this has been useful for many, for other areas - these reports do not often reflect the input or desires of a wider spectrum of community stakeholders and as such, they are often difficult to implement.

The PRA process is research conducted WITH rather than FOR a community. It has been used a lot in the international scene in developing countries in areas such as health, education and agriculture. When I first became aware of it at Michigan State during my PhD, I wondered why this wasn't being used more in tourism development. Hence, we have piloted and learned about how it works in rural areas of BC for tourism development.

To view the presentation - CLICK HERE

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Rural Tourism Conference slated for April - mark your calendars!

Well, the Rural Tourism Conference is slated to continue so mark your calendars for April 19-21st, 2011 and plan to travel to 108 Mile House to the conference venue at Hills Health Ranch. The steering committee has met a few times and will be posting more details on the conference theme soon but in the meantime plan to attend.

How is this conference different from other tourism conferences and why should you attend? This conference focuses on sharing knowledge and useful applications that are intended for those working in tourism within a rural context. The emphasis is on education and network creation in a rural learning environment where operators, community leaders, educators and students are all in attendance and equal participants. If you are interested in attending a gathering of the minds with people who understand your reality and who are coming up with solutions that may work to advance tourism in rural areas - this conference is worth the trip. Expect a couple of days of talks, workshops, hands on sessions and socializing. Leave with new insights, innovative ideas and a network of folks you can call upon after the conference is done.

The conference is being co-hosted by three academic partners, all from the Tourism Research Innovation Project - Thompson Rivers University, University of Northern BC and Vancouver Island University. We will have our students involved in the planning and will be inviting participation from other organizations to play a role as we move forward.
I plan to organize a traveling conference prior to the conference where operators and students will travel together to various venues in the region learning about topics that enhance the competitiveness of small and medium sized businesses. The funding application will go in soon but my intent is to provide a subsidy for operators to enable them to participate. More on this as I get more details but if you are keen and available from April 13 to the 20th (last three days at the conference), let me know.

More to come - stay tuned and I will post the website with more details as soon as we have them - for now though, mark your calendar as this one is sure to sell out.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Rural BC Profile - Worth a read

I just spent the morning reviewing a new report by Marianne Sorensen from Tandem Social Research Consulting titled "Rural British Columbia Profile: A Fifteen-year Census Analysis (1991-2006). The report is well worth a read to become more familiar with the trends on overall quality of life and disparities in rural areas. (report obtained on the link above - see bottom of the page under publications).

The report provides insights on the current status and historical trends in rural BC. Throughout the report, I was reminded of the complexity of the situation in rural areas of the province due to the range of factors that are influencing change and due to the fact that not all rural areas are the same. I have made this point numerous times in the past because I find that many times rural areas are spoken of as one entity - when in reality, and as the report highlights well - there are oftentimes greater differences between rural areas than between rural and urban areas.

I wanted to highlight this resource today and will reference the report throughout other blogs - but today I wanted to link the report to the provision of higher education throughout BC. If capacity building is one of the central assumptions in the revitalization of rural areas - we need to ask hard questions about the role of higher education institutions in this province.

Rural development and access to higher education
The findings in the report show that rural BC residents are less likely to attain a University degree and possible explanations include that youth may have less aspirations to attend Universities and that there are less Universities located in rural areas. Perhaps because I spend a lot of time in the academic world, I see this issue as a priority. Our Universities and Colleges, for the most part are situated in or close to our urban centers which decreases access for rural youth. In my experience, access is not just limited by increased costs associated to relocation but includes more social and psychological issues as well. Many of my rural students have expressed that they were intimidated by urban centers or universities, that they felt social pressure when they chose to leave their community and for others - that they felt marginalized when they returned to a rural area with their education.

This area, as suggested in the study, is ripe for more research. If getting young people to relocate and settle in rural areas is central to rural development we need to understand more about those already located within rural areas and also youth in urban centers. For example - what are the aspirations of rural youth and how does education fit into those aspirations? What inhibitors, if any, exist and what could be done to limit or remove them to further enable rural youth to participate in higher education? What are the perceptions of urban youth about rural areas? What factors are they most influenced by with respect to their choice of location upon graduation? Do rural areas have these? How can rural areas use their amenities to attract youth to relocate? These are questions I see on the "demand" side of the equation for re population of rural areas.The only communities that survive in the future will be those where people vote with their feet - and these people need to reflect all ends of the age spectrum.

The report hints at questions around the supply side of higher education in rural areas of BC as well. Many questions come to mind to understand if our current system is limiting choice and opportunity for rural youth. Higher education is directly linked to economic indicators such as income attainment. It is one form of capacity building that could provide long term solutions to the obvious leakage of population from our rural areas. I question whether or not higher education institutions view the issue of rural education provision as one of their mandates. If higher education was seen as a more central component in the rural development puzzle, should we not see more collective and systematic efforts to address these disparities? For some reason, we always get hung up on the bricks and mortar approach to education provision - or the location of facilities in rural areas. This is one of the issues, yes - but I think we need to perhaps think beyond this traditional approach to education services and incorporate more outreach type models into our system. Learning is indeed place-based - place matters not only in terms of where we learn, but in what we learn about. We need to ask ourselves are there ways we could provide higher education IN rural areas in ways that meet the needs of rural learners? Are there models working elsewhere that we can pilot? Are there other agencies that could be partners in this endeavor that share the goal of rural development? These questions need to also recognize that the idea of "on-line learning", while useful for many - is not the solution for meeting the needs of rural residents at this time due to infrastructure issues with the Internet. More innovative ideas need to come to the forefront to address this issue.

I am not naive about the higher costs associated to providing education in rural areas - our public institutions are no longer "public" but are driven on a semi-private model where "bums in seats" or enrollment management is critical to their survival. Likely, the ability of our current higher education institutions to respond to the issue of rural development will require stronger connections between provincial government ministries that share the goal of rural revitalization. Expanded networks and cross cutting approaches to develop a strategy that addresses the rural/urban disparities may be needed.

A final note on this topic - when my position was created (to work with rural communities in BC to incorporate amenity based industries in their diversification efforts), capacity building was built into my work plan. To date, I have attempted to bring young people out into rural areas using outreach methods, I have worked with colleagues to bring education and resource sessions to rural operators (conferences, manuals, workshops) and I have worked with colleagues to try and embed "rural" as a concept in our urban university classrooms. I plan to expand these types of strategies and invite ideas and partners from elsewhere to expand opportunities for rural residents to learn about sustainable amenity development in ways that work for them. And, I will continue to find ways to filter knowledge about the rural realities in BC into decision making circles to agitate for innovative ways to move forward.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Increasing domestic travel - kudos to new marketing campaigns

I have often called for stronger marketing campaigns to increase domestic tourism for a number of reasons:

1. Rural areas often rely on rubber tire markets for tourism as they have limited other travel infrastructure. They are often in need of marketing efforts that encourage urbanites to travel closer to home to experience what is in their own backyard.

2. The ecological footprint associated to travel is linked to distance from origin (with higher impacts coming from air travel) - therefore traveling in one's back yard can be seen as a green"er" travel choice.

3. Many Canadians (or British Columbians to be more local) are unaware of the rich natural and cultural amenities within our own region. Tourism marketing has often branded very stereotypical images of Canada and its subregions which can dilute the breadth and diversity of experiences that are available.

Year after year however, I see that the dominant view in tourism tends to be to attract international travelers (especially high yield markets) to inject "new" money into the economy. While this is important, this ideology has perhaps skewed the systems and programs in the tourism industry at the expense of those who rely on more domestic travel markets. I have long heard from operators in rural areas "I don't care if my visitor is from Vancouver or Frankfurt - if they stay, pay and play - I am able to stay in business". And of course, if they stay in business - the overall travel experience is better for all, the local community is able to benefit and so on...

I have been quite pleased this summer to see the ramped up efforts in BC and at the Canadian level with marketing campaigns aimed at getting people to travel within their own vicinity. The innovative "Locals Know" campaign by the Canadian Tourism Commission has caught my attention numerous times. They have been engaging Canadians to contribute images, stories and their own experiences and the photos on their site help to showcase unique places and people across the country. More recently as well, BC has ramped up their efforts to get people traveling by car into more remote and unique areas of the province by showcasing driving routes. As someone who has traveled most highways in BC, I am pleased to see that these driving routes give people good reason to explore their own backyard, linking experiences and enticing them off the beaten track.

Hopefully these efforts work to motivate travel within our borders, engaging our residents to be more knowledgeable about what is here and then share that with others. Just about every survey that asks how people find out about places indicates the power of "word of mouth". This powerful tool can only be used when people have experienced something first hand. I hope that this effort at domestic marketing pays off for rural operators and that is produces a whole new generation of ambassadors for travel within Canada.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Back in (or out) of the saddle

Hello all,
I should have explained the absence from this blog for the past couple of months prior, but I was away on summer vacation. One of the advantages of my position is being able to take time off in the summer to enjoy the great amenities in the province. For me, this time was largely spent in the saddle, literally, as I am an avid equestrian. So back at work and into a new saddle.

Time in the saddle this summer brought me to many different destinations in the province and I couldn't help but think more about the potential role of equestrian tourism in BC. More and more people are travelling with their pets, and some of these are traveling with their horses. We've seen all sorts of modifications of tourism venues and services to provide for traveling pets, but I must admit - these are lagging behind for horses.

Traveling with horses can be a stress inducing experience as it usually involves trucks and horse trailers and live, precious cargo. It is important to have places to pull over and stop regularly to allow horses legs to rest or to provide water. Some like to take horses out of the trailer as well to allow them to stretch out their legs, especially on long hauls. Waiting in long ferry line ups or the hot sun is a real concern as trailers can soon become like an oven. And of course, deciding where to stay overnight with horses can be a challenge as few places allow this currently.

At the same time, there are a number of equestrians in this province who travel regularly with their horses either for competition or to access trails. Based on my conversations with many and my own experience, there is the potential to expand this travel by improving basic infrastructure, services and awareness among the equestrian community.

This summer I came upon a couple of notable venues that are worth mentioning. Last week I stayed at the Hills Health Ranch in 108 Mile House with my horses. They have worked with the Backcountry Horsemen of BC to construct and provide campsites for horses. The sites have small corrals, large parking areas for rigs, water, manure pits and maps to access some of the nicest trails I have ridden on in BC. They have housed this close to the main Ranch facilities so a $20 camping fee allows access to the showers, pool, restaurants and other amenities at the resort. We had a competitive trail ride on Saturday with about 30 riders from around the province attending (sport tourism) and all of us indicated we would be back. Check it out and if you are a resort, consider building on their concept as it was extremely popular.

The other venue closer to home that I visit regularly is Twincreeks Bed Bale and Breakfast in Duncan. A friend, Deborah Flinn provides overnight facilities for visitors, access to the trails and customized natural horsemanship lessons for visitors. She even puts on wine rides where you ride from winery to winery on horseback! Other friends, Doug and Mary Carr at Takala Ranch in Ladysmith have built a great little cabin and corrals for visitors to stay, ride and take part in Ranch activities.

When I speak of equestrian tourism to others, I often see a bit of confusion about what it is or the potential in BC. I honestly believe that we have the potential to position ourselves as an equestrian tourism destination based on our landscape and access to nearby markets with high horse ownership levels. Equestrian tourism is more than having visitors take a short trail ride on someone else's horse at a Ranch vacation. It needs to expand in scope to include a range of services and supports for those who travel regularly with their horses. We need more research to understand the size and scope of the market and to learn more about their travel needs in order to do this. And, we can learn from others that are leading the way (see horse travel in the USA for an example of how coordinated their services for horse travel are).

I sit on the joint trails access committee with Horse Council BC and am Vice President of the BC Competitive Trail Riders Association... Along with others, I hope we can further the conversations to allow folks to understand the full scope of potential with equestrian tourism and to harness it in the near future.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Connecting with others who "get rural"

Today I participated in a conference call for the Annual General Meeting of the Canadian Rural Research Network (CRRN). The CRRN is "is a new means to support information sharing and networking among stakeholders with an interest in rural research". The blog connects partners from across Canada working on topics related to the well being of rural communities - and I'd encourage people to check out their site and subscribe for their updates.

Sometimes as an academic who works on rural development topics, I find myself isolated and unable to fully tap into others who "get it". What I mean by that is that in order to study and contribute to rural development, one really needs to understand the complexities and realities of life in the rural context. I find that most academic institutions, programs and faculties use an urbancentric (or urban biased) approach to education and research. Our textbooks contain content with urban examples, urban processes and urban assumptions. Our campuses are located in urban settings which require rural youth to travel to obtain their education and strip rural areas of much needed human capital (for those campuses that are located in rural areas, they often have to rationalize their existence for public investment). I also note, that faculty are by and large not using "place based" teaching to help students understand rural areas.
These practices are not fully preparing students for engagement with rural areas. I remember years ago, I had a student that called after graduation and said "Nicole - this community doesn't have a Chamber of Commerce, a Planner, an Economic Development officer or a tourism marketing organization - so non of the stuff I learned about tourism development really fits here!". This was a good wake up call for me about the information that goes in - directly impacts their ability to create change when students are out in the field. Now, I use a rural lens when teaching, I encourage those from rural areas to comment on how approaches would work in a rural area, and most importantly - I take University students out into rural areas for "rural immersion" experiences for 3-4 weeks every year so they can develop a rural lens.

When I started to study rural tourism development in BC about a decade ago, I found that the word rural rarely appeared on the radar of academic institutions or within government agencies. For those that did recognize the word (and indeed this still needs clarity now and again) they often assumed that rural means agriculture or farming. While most of agriculture is rural, rural is much more than agriculture!

But things look up - there is a growing cluster of expertise in the academic world that has chosen to study a variety of topics in the rural context. The CRRN is one example that holds promise to connect researchers. The TRIP project that I lead in BC certainly connected a number of us in this region. I noticed a promising organized approach in Alberta called the Alberta Rural Development Network (having a conference next week!). And, next week I am attending a two day dialogue on rural policy in Victoria hosted by the BC Rural Secretariat. All of these initiatives are positive and demonstrate growing recognition of systems and stakeholders that are aligning to create more positive change for the people in rural Canada.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Preserving and promoting heritage assets for rural tourism

Yesterday I was contacted by someone from the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, DC to bring to my attention a special issue of the Forum Journal (Winter 2010) that focused on Heritage-Based Rural Development.

BC has an active Heritage Branch in the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts and I have had the good fortune to work with many of their staff in the past. Efforts to bring together those in heritage preservation and tourism have been made in recent years as there is a growing recognition of the synergies that can happen when working together. Sometimes when blending people from different worlds – it is a good idea to focus first on common goals. I would like to propose in this blog, that those working on heritage tourism think a bit broader about how heritage can support rural development in general – not just through tourism. By following the suggestions and examples in the articles discussed above, the protection and promotion of heritage assets leads to the goals of many rural areas. For example heritage assets make communities more attractive to visitors, residents and businesses which can keep people in the community. It also invests in foundations of authenticity which can create places where people experience a “sense of place” (which is becoming difficult as all our cities begin to look alike).
So how do the journal articles suggest this happens – well I don't want to take away from your enjoyment in reading the articles – but here are a few highlights I gleaned. Based on two pilot projects (regional based) along the Mississippi River in Arkansas and in central Kentucky – James Lindberg’s article provides six principles for heritage based development including:

1. Use a regional approach
2. Protect historic authenticity
3. Nurture grassroots involvement and leadership
4. Forge strong partnerships
5. Be flexible, and
6. Make a long term commitment

Using these as guiding principles – they also propose six strategies for moving forward. I thought these were particularly useful for rural development:
1. Educate about the value of rural heritage
2. Conserve heritage assets
3. Encourage local entrepreneurship and the use of historic structures
4. Develop heritage tourism potential
5. Brand and market your regional identity
6. Advocate for public policies that support heritage-based rural development

So without spoiling your read, go and review the articles (they are short) as they point out many tips under each strategy. I couldn’t help but think about the many examples of heritage resources in BC that I have visited over the years that are in dire need of conservation before they can be of any use for tourism. Many rural residents are aware of these assets and value the sites, places and people that have established roots to the area. The state of many sites however is unfortunate – old buildings crumbling or being demolished for new developments. Once they are gone, and once the people that are connected to these places are gone – these heritage resources will be much more difficult, if not impossible to revitalize.
Canadians often say that Canada doesn’t have its own culture (which I adamantly disagree with). Perhaps it is time we learn from others – even within our own country (i.e. Quebec efforts around heritage preservation are excellent) about what our heritage amenities are and then prioritize them as key ingredients for rural development. We know they are there, and we should know by now the roadblocks that are preventing them from being restored and utilized – so now all we need are creative ideas on how to get there (which starts with being a priority). With so much emphasis on “tourism product development” going on, heritage resources must be incorporated into these discussions in ways that balance the mandates of protection and promotion.

I like to expose myself to the thinking and practices south of the 49th whenever I can. There is a collective understanding about rural tourism development in the USA that Canada can, and should, learn from. Universities have supported extension activity in tourism across the States for quite some time and clusters of active regions have demonstrated many promising practices. Luckily, I will get the opportunity for more interaction with folks by attending the Rural Tourism Conference in Mississippi October 25-27th. For others who want to attend a good conference on rural tourism, keep your eyes open for the next National Extension Tourism Conference as well.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Staycations benefit rural areas and the environment

Folks have probably heard about a new type of getaway called the "staycation". A staycation is a vacation one takes close to home, to enjoy the adventures in their own backyard.

Why are staycations growing in popularity? There are many reasons for this trend including:

1. We have a "been there, done that" generation that has travelled far more than any other generation before it. It is no longer unique to travel to Europe, Southeast Asia or Africa because so many others have done this. In tourism we call this phenomenon "mass follows class" which means that while a few intrepid tourists find unique places, they soon share their experiences leading to the flow of mass travellers after them. Tourism is an activity with incredible "social bragging rights", and these rights go up when others are less likely to have gone where you have travelled. So how does this lead to a staycation? Staycations are somewhat less common than they used to be and people are now more prone to explore what is in their own backyard.
2. Concerns about the carbon footprint of travel are also making people rethink international travel. While all travel produces carbon, air travel is becoming more scrutinized for its contribution to global warming. And beyond air travel, people are looking to invest in travel experiences that benefit places and people.
3. The experience of travel to and from destinations is becoming a hassle for many. Increased security measures, confusion about regulations, required passports, screening practices and add on taxes are common complaints of air travelers. These hassles are felt more so by people who have to travel for their work and leads many to want to avoid travel when they have leisure time.
4. The pace of society in both work and leisure time has created a need for people to "slow down". Many have tried to create space to be more slow by packing less into their schedule - including travel experiences.

As people look to stay closer to home for their vacations, rural areas that are developing tourism stand to benefit. In order to benefit however, rural areas need to become more visible to urbanites. This is not an easy task as many Canadians are becoming increasingly disconnected to the rural landscape and the amenities, communities and people within. At your next social gathering when someone asks you where you are going on your summer vacation - suggest some rural areas in your province and see if they know where you are talking about. I have done this often when I tell folks that I'd like to get to the Chilcotin this summer... I can see their blank stares that indicate they have no clue where I am talking about.

For those working in rural tourism - you may want to ask yourself if your area could be attractive to urbanites who want to staycation this year. What do you have that could help them slow down, stay close to home and explore, reduce their carbon footprint and experience reality in their own life? Chances are, there are many things that would suit staycationers. Now how can you raise awareness that your rural area is worth exploring? Work with other small communities in your region and think about targeting some promotions to nearby urban markets. Assemble some packages that leave room for lots of exploration and flexibility while making it easy for them to decide. And start a buzz about staycations within the industry to encourage organizations to work together to market BC to British Columbians, spur the rubber tire market and revitalize rural tourism efforts. The spin offs? Rural areas will see increased visitation, added exposure may lead some people to relocate to rural areas as residents or to start a new business and BC residents will become better ambassadors for the province because they will know about its amenities (and will pass it on to other visitors).

And for you - plan a staycation to a part of rural BC this year to experience something unique.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Historical week for BC tourism

  • This week was an historic one for rural BC and for the role of tourism in its diversification. The first BC rural conference was held at the South Thompson Inn just outside of Kamloops as part of the REDTREE project by Thompson Rivers University. I have been to many conferences over the years and am joining others in saying that this is one of the best ever held in BC. Why was it so great?

    The opportunities for learning were unlike any program I have seen assembled around tourism in BC - there were sessions on everything from sustainability, mountain bike trails, signage, product development and capacity building to Web tools, amenity migration and geocaching.

    The delivery was innovative - there were lots of workshops, activities, plenaries and plenty of time for networking.

    The venue was spectacular - the South Thompson Inn setting provided an intimate gathering spot and everyone remained on site to create space for networking and developing ideas. The staff was great and the food was fantastic (and local).

    The delegate list was diverse - the session had lots of rural operators, council members, aboriginal leaders, policy makers from federal and provincial agencies, field agents, academics, consultants, students and marketing associations. This provided a rich set of players to share ideas, realities and voices to the complex array of stakeholders involved in tourism development. And, no one audience was privileged in their links to tourism in the province. They came from all corners of BC and from outside the province including Alberta, Quebec, California, Sweden and Brazil!

    For me, the event was very special as it marked the realization of a vision that I shared with my colleagues in TRIP since 2006 when we learned that rural operators and leaders wanted a venue to get together to share and learn together. Watching people from all over the province shake hands, sit down together and learn from the wealth of knowledge around the venue was fantastic. I had the opportunity to reconnect with people we met on the road with our students, and I had the chance to meet new people like Anna Pollock and Joanne Steele whose work I have admired.

    One of the goals of TRIP was to develop a cluster of expertise and network around rural tourism in BC and it was so evident that we can collectively check that one off our list. Our partners were well represented in the event, and some of my closest colleagues and students who engaged in TRIP extension tours were all around and involved. This showed the follow through and commitment of the partnership to seeing our ideas through and in fact, we are all leaving inspired to do more... (keep posted for new ideas for a TRIP phase 2!).

    Congratulations to Rob Hood and his great team at TRU including Sydney Johnsen, Cynthia Schaap and all the great students. The organization was super and kept people engaged throughout. We truly had a great "experience". In particular though, when I talked about doing things using a rural lens, the team did many things to make the conference work for rural BC residents including:

    They invited them to the event
    They tailored the topics to suit their needs
    They created a travel subsidy to make it accessible
    They recognized that their time away from the community was valuable and ensured an action packed learning program
    They kept it in a rural setting
    They benefited a rural operator
    They used workshops to allow for engagement and learning
    They kept the speakers relevant to rural issues and realities
    They focused on the big picture facing rural BC
    They made room for socializing amongst delegates by having adventures, socials, bus outings, and plenty of networking time
    And probably many more.

    We are talking about the logistics for the next gathering and are committed to continue the opportunity. Keep posted, tell your contacts and register early because based on the success of this inaugural event - it will sell out super quick!

    PS - the adventure studies program offered a social opportunity on Wednesday night and my team was called the "Roper's" due to Miriam Schilling's abilities with a lariat in one of the activities. Our team photo includes Gavin McLelland (being caught), Miriam Schilling, myself, Victoria Simpson,Kimberly May, and Sara Weaver (Simone Carlysle-Smith was missing for a moment).

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Get on the Train!

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending a workshop hosted by the Island Corridor Foundation titled "Get on the Train". The event was designed to review a recent baseline investigation on the rail based tourism opportunities in the region and to explore additional opportunities for product development, service integration and business opportunities.

I was asked to participate in the afternoon session as one of the dragons in the "Dragon's Den" activity along with Don Barrie (Tourism Cowichan), Neil Malbon (Alerni Valley Tourism), Mark Drysdale (Tourism Nanaimo) and Heather Maycock (Tourism Vancouver Island). Together, we asked questions and provided constructive criticism for new tourism/rail related business ventures that were designed by the delegates.

The afternoon went extremely well and I wanted to write a short blog post to promote both the work of the Foundation, but also for the structure of the day. I am a big fan of "knowledge mobilization" which means moving knowledge to people in ways that work for them, and in time for them to act upon it. We live in a world of too much information and are constantly inundated with even more. Sometimes we fall into a rut of trying to seek more, and then limiting the ways that we share it. Most conferences and workshops have speakers and more speakers and offer little opportunity for people to get engaged in the topic area, share their ideas or most importantly, learn something new.

The Dragon's Den activity was an innovative approach to engage people, let them meet others, explore ideas, and allow learning to take place. As teams presented their ideas, delegates all learned about possibilities in the region and from the feedback provided from the Dragon's, they also learned about what will and will not work to develop the rail tourism product in the region.

Congratulations to the winning team that developed ideas around "Accessibility Tours" partnering with local businesses and rural areas to provide people with mobility impairments the opportunity to experience the region. And congratulations to The Island Corridor Foundation on the event.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fish, tourism and education: Quatse Salmon Stewardship Center

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the 6th BC Rural Summit in Port Hardy - one of my favorite areas of BC. The Rural Summit gathers people from rural communities across the province to share ideas and network. If you haven't been to one, think about attending next year.

I was particularly impressed with the wine and cheese on the first night of the conference which took place at the Quatse Salmon Stewardship Center. The Center opened on September 20, 2009 and includes an interpretive gallery, labs, classroom and hatchery production facilities. It is located just out of Port Hardy in a beautiful setting which also has a campground facility.

I have been to many hatcheries throughout the province but have never seen one quite like this. The Center was designed with education in mind and to me, it illustrates how tourism can be linked in with other industries like fishing, but also to education. The outcome is that visitors are provided with a unique learning experience that introduces them to the natural and cultural heritage of an area. At the same time, numerous other wins take place - residents can take pride in their efforts to protect and promote their natural amenities and they can also take advantage of a new community facility.

This Quatse Salmon Stewardship Center was well designed to maximize interaction with the surroundings and to facilitate learning. Outside, there are well marked trails to navigate visitors around, and it is easy to locate the facilities on site. Inside, the layout of the center allows for growth and expansion, interactive exhibits on fish, and at the same time - it leaves space for community events such as the wine and cheese. There is a large meeting room area and kitchen which will enable community groups to book the facility and bring people in on multiple occasions. We spoke with Chris Stone, a Fisheries Technician with the Center who indicated that Phase two will expand on the exhibits and include a small movie theatre that provides visuals of fish throughout their life cycle as well.

I was very impressed with the facility and the efforts of all the partners that brought the idea into reality. It is worth a visit and for other communities that are thinking about how to link tourism and education to your natural heritage, take some notes from the work being done here. Best of success.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Tourism in Port Alice? Fit and future potential

Last week I had the pleasure to take six great students up to Port Alice to do a participatory rural appraisal of tourism potential. The week went extremely well for the team largely due to the efforts of the Village staff and the enthusiasm of people in the community to share their perspectives.

A Participatory rural appraisal is a relatively new research approach which essentially brings a team (with differing perspectives) into a community for a week or longer to engage in dialogue on topics of interest to the community. The invite comes from the community and they largely drive the questions that they are seeking to know more about - in this case for Port Alice - it was to get residents to learn about the impacts of tourism and to explore its fit and future potential for the area.

First in the community, we did a tour to get familiar with the sites that could work as attractions or support for tourism. These were later visited again to learn about them in more depth, and they included natural and cultural sites of significance. We hosted two public meetings - which were both well attended. The first one was used for me to give an overview on the realities of tourism development for rural communities. I covered the impacts, both good and bad, that can result from tourism and gave them an idea of the ingredients for success. The meeting was well publicized and we had about 40 people turn out to share their ideas, hopes, fears and questions about tourism in Port Alice. Later in the week, we reported back to the community about what we heard and found during the week and we will share all the insights in a report this week as well (rapid report back is also a feature of the PRA approach). The students actively engaged in discussion with about 32 people outside of the meetings - sharing their ideas and learning from residents.

So what did we find in a nutshell? Port Alice is at a very early stage of tourism development - so early in fact, that my assessment tools had to be adjusted to give them proper feedback. They scored relatively low on their current "system" but it in no way was an indication of their potential for tourism. I believe it is only a matter of time until people begin to notice Port Alice and it is best that the community plans for this instead of just let's it happen. They agreed - the residents expressed strong support for tourism (based on about 72 people - and we actively searched for nay sayers!). They have an abundance of natural assets that could support adventure tourism - and I believe they have some competitive advantage over other island communities in terms of their access to ocean, fresh water, rivers and a variety of terrestrial settings. Wildlife viewing and photography opportunities are abundant, and the town has a very unique heritage that, if told, could keep visitors around in the community as well. The setting is extremely picturesque, on the water in a sheltered inlet which could support access to a variety of water based pursuits (kayaking, boating).

But, Port Alice also has a few barriers to overcome. They are not used to tourism and in fact, have not supported its growth for sometime (so we understand). Their neighboring communities are further along and will be able to attract and support visitors experiences better than Port Alice right now. It will take some investments in basic visitor experiences and infrastructure to get ready for more visitors, and they will have to fine tune the image that they want to put out about themselves to the public. Working with their neighbors is essential and there I have some faith as the North Island has a collaborative marketing initiative underway with a good funding base and some great people (with experience) to assist them.

For me, this PRA was exciting as we were able to work with a community at such an early stage of development. I was happy to help get them off to a good start by getting them to talk about tourism, its realities and steps to move forward. I look forward to continuing that support and to watching the residents pull together to diversify through tourism in the upcoming years.

The report will be released this week and available through Keir Gervais, Director of Operations for Port Alice, and we will post it on the trip website as well at (under resources, then reports). Thank you to all the people in Port Alice for sharing your ideas and participating with us in this discussion about tourism in your community - we wish you the best. Thanks to my great team of students, Wendy Scott, Kelsey Milne, Taz Hartwick, Gareth Davies, Maddy Koch and Becky Jones - you were amazing!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Getting folks around the table

Last week I was invited to attend some community input meetings being held as part of the Tourism Foundations program for the Tourism Cowichan region. When Geoff Millar invited me, I was pleasantly surprised that the communities had requested to go at this as a region - particularly because some of the communities are quite different in size and engagement with tourism already.

The sessions were facilitated by Jennifer Houiellebecq of the Tourism Planning Group. I have been to many of these types of meetings and am always impressed to see people from public/private sectors and all areas of tourism sit in the same room together. It is one of the critical components to overall success in tourism - if folks can't get around the table, and stay around the table to discuss their vision for tourism and strategies to get there - they are unlikely to meet with success.

So - for those out there who are either trying to get tourism going in a rural area, or trying to get it on track - you may want to take note. But here are some critical points to remember when it comes to engaging stakeholders in tourism planning work:

Never assume a meeting is a group - just because people come to one meeting, that does not mean that they are a cohesive group, nor does it mean they share a common goal or that they will be committed to moving ideas generated along. Multiple gatherings where the same people return time and time again are evidence that you have a group of people involved and interested in the activity. Mutual work being done in between is even stronger evidence.

Who is not around the table may be more important than who is - I have been to many meetings where the guest list is hand picked local dignitaries and public positions who engage in great discussions about tourism, but who may not be the champions required to move things forward. Business must be around the table and if possible, leading the charge - and public leaders need to recognize that tourism is an industry driven, community supported and planned activity. Trust is critical to success - and therefore time needs to be built into the process to ensure that this evolves with those at the table - otherwise well intentioned initiatives can be doomed for failure. Memories about attempted collaboration can have a long shelf life in rural communities, particularly if the people involved remain in leadership positions - so err on the side of inclusion and a slower process in favor of strong results.

So go forth and rally your stakeholders to the table, invite widely, make sure meetings are accessible for different people (i.e. time of day/date/seasons are different for businesses who are not paid for participation) take time to build a process that works for everyone, keep the meetings productive, monitor how they are working for people (do people keep coming? do certain groups fall off?)and be willing to modify as you move along to keep the spirit of trust and momentum going.

Best of success!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Using amenities for rural economic development

The natural and cultural assets of an area are key determinants to human settlement. In Canada’s rural areas, these assets have contributed to settlement patterns and a legacy of rich heritage. For many of Canada’s rural regions, these assets were utilized to develop economies based on the extraction of natural resources. As time has evolved, numerous external pressures and new global realities have reshaped the relationship that rural residents have with these resources. Now, many rural areas are rethinking how they can utilize their rich natural and cultural heritage to keep their communities alive. The same assets are now being viewed as amenities that have the potential to reshape economic development strategies by bringing people (visitors and residents) into rural areas instead of simply exporting natural resources out.

Awareness of the influence of amenities on rural population patterns has been growing. Residents of urban areas are seeking out the amenities of rural areas for outdoor recreation and tourism or as key attributes in resettlement for either part time (second home ownership) or full time residence. Booth (1999) found in studies in the western US that high population densities are oriented to amenities such as ski areas, national parks, and to universities and colleges. Clark and colleagues( 2002) found evidence that cultural amenities are key contributors to settlement in urban areas and are key to economic vitality. Overall, studies have shown that there is a correlation between amenity rich areas and higher levels of employment, population and income growth (Henderson & McDaniel, 2005; Hunter et al, 2005; Nzaku & Bukenya, 2005).

While there is still a lot to learn about how communities and regions can use their amenities in economic development, there appears to be enough consensus that they can be strong contributors and should be factored into discussions. For starters, here are some questions worth considering:

1. Are you in an amenity rich location? If so, what are they? Natural (weather, topography, settings) or man made (culture, heritage sites, etc). Is your perception of your own amenities consistent with what outside audiences know about your area?
2. Are you incorporating these amenities into your economic development or tourism development strategies? Are they listed as assets that are central to your economic strategies? Are they identified, understood and promoted to attract entrepreneurs, firms, residents or visitors?
3. Are you seeking to attract people as residents? Remember - attracting people attracts jobs and concentrations of people create demand for services. Note that natural amenities have been associated to higher economic activity (jobs) for some industries more than others. For example, recreation and tourism based industry growth fits amenity rich locations whereas manufacturing is not as good a fit (due to higher land costs and adverse effects of some manufacturing activity where emissions or environmental issues are evident).

That ought to keep you thinking about amenities for awhile. Recognize that using amenities as an economic development strategy has both pros and cons, much of which we are still learning about. I will write about this in a future blog as communities who have used their amenities well to diversify are teaching us a lot about what others can do to maximize the positive and minimize the negative outcomes.

Further resources:
Booth, D. E. (1999). Spatial patterns in the economic development of the mountain west. Growth & Change, 30(3), 384.
Clark, T. N., Lloyd, R., Wong, K. K., & Jain, P. (2002). Amenities drive urban growth. Journal of Urban Affairs, 24(5), 493-515.
Henderson, J. R., & McDaniel, K. (2005). Natural amenities and rural employment growth: A sector analysis. Review of Regional Studies, 35(1), 80-96.
Hunter, L. M., Boardman, J. D., & Saint Onge, J. M. (2005). The association between natural amenities, rural population growth, and long-term residents' economic well-being. Rural Sociology, 70(4), 452-469.
Nzaku, K., & Bukenya, J. O. (2005). Examining the relationship between quality of life amenities and economic development in the southeast USA. Review of Urban & Regional Development Studies, 17(2), 89-103.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Attracting and supporting lifestyle entrepreneurs

Over the years of extension work in rural BC, our research teams have met numerous tourism business owners who don't necessarily fit the mold of stereotypical "profit motivated" entrepreneurs. These "lifestyle entrepreneurs" are motivated to enter into business for non-economic reasons and for the lifestyle benefits that emerge. Lifestyle entrepreneurs are particularly attracted to tourism businesses because there are ample opportunities to blur the distinction between "producing and consuming experiences". For example, it is not uncommon to find entrepreneurs that love kayaking so much (consuming it) that they decide to transfer their skill set to produce it for others - thus starting a business to "finance their leisure pursuits".

Academics have been trying to get more familiar with lifestyle entrepreneurs in tourism for the past decade. Some of their insights are useful to share with those who are wanting to support or attract lifestyle entrepreneurs into their area. Gareth Shaw and Allan Williams (2004) found that the small scale entrepreneur in tourism is different than in other economic sectors and needs to be better understood. Tourism attracts lifestyle entrepreneurs for three reasons: 1) it is relatively easy to enter into business in tourism as it does not require professional licensing, formalized education or approval, 2) depending on the sector, low levels of capital are required to enter, and 3) skill sets applicable to entry are largely transferable from other industries. Add to this today's fast paced society and people's desire to achieve balance - and lifestyle entrepreneurship becomes an attractive avenue for personal fulfillment. Irena Ateljevic and Stephen Doorne (2000) have studied lifestyle entrepreneurs in tourism in New Zealand extensively. They have found that many of them are motivated by a concious rejection of economic and business growth models. While this might seem to be financial suicide, they found that these entrepreneurs were more often the instigators of niche market opportunities in tourism and were often instrumental in introducing innovation to the wider industry. These ideas often have the value added outcome that they stimulate wider regional economic development opportunities.

While I couldn't find stats on the number of lifestyle entrepreneurs in tourism in BC or Canada, my guess is that in rural areas, they are a significant portion of businesses (in a Cornwall study, one third of tourism entrepreneurs were lifestyle motivated). I arrive at this based on the percentage of entrepreneurs that we have encountered over the years, mixed with the observation that rural areas afford individuals the amenities that are likely to contribute to overall lifestyle motivations. It is my observation that we still make the assumption that all businesses have dominant profit motives and are seeking mechanisms to grown and expand their businesses. In making this assumption, we are likely going to miss out on opportunities to a) support the lifestyle entrepreneurs that are already operating in rural areas and b) attract more lifestyle entrepreneurs to rural areas. Both of these are critical to rural tourism development as our already limited product base in rural areas is projected to decline due to the exit of entrepreneurs who plan to retire (baby boomers are shown to dominate) and regions need to find ways to stimulate the addition of small businesses in order to develop experiences for visitors. Indeed - Richard Florida argues that the only communities that will survive are those that are able to attract creative people to locate in them - lifestyle entrepreneurs fit that mold.

So how do regions attract lifestyle entrepreneurs? What questions do we need to be asking ourselves to understand their motives better? My simple answer is - I don't know yet - but the best way for us to find out is to ask them. Some of my research on innovators in sustainability has already shown that these non economic motives are dominant among early adopters in tourism. The lifestyle entrepreneurs I have talked with are more than willing to share what their motives and business support needs are - and these are not necessarily the things that we would expect. Some want to close shop for a couple of months of the year, some want to limit exposure during the season, and others are hiring people who share their passion. These are not typically the business practices that tourism development experts are encouraging or expecting. So it may seem that we have a disconnect if our economic development ideas are based on a limited type of entrepreneur that is neither present or attracted to rural areas. Another important consideration for rural areas is to note that lifestyle entrepreneurs often decide to locate in an area after repeated travel to a destination (for leisure pursuits largely). This phenomenon has been dubbed "travel stimulated entrepreneurial migration" (Snepenger et al, 1995 as cited in Shaw and Williams).

Simply put, lifestyle entrepreneurs are an important asset for rural regions and we have a lot of work to do to understand what they need to settle, set up shop and serve visitors. Let's start the dialogue and listen.

Ateljevic, I and Doorne, S. (2000). Staying within the fence: Lifestyle entrepreneurship in tourism. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, Vol 8, No. 5, p:378.

Shaw, G. and Williams, A. (2004). From lifestyle consumption to lifestyle production: Changing patterns of tourism entrepreneurship. Small Firms in Tourism: International Perspectives, Elsevier Ltd.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Tourism routes can enhance product development

Last week I commented on the importance of thinking beyond communities to thinking about regional tourism development. One of the ways that others around the world have done this is to develop tourism routes that create unique experiences for visitors (Australia, South Africa, Spain, France). Simply put - route tourism is "an initiative to bring together a variety of activities and attractions under a unified theme and thus stimulate entrepreneurial opportunity through the development of ancillary products and services" (Greffe, 1994). Routes link bundles of experiences for visitors and make it easier for them to make their way through the abundance of marketing information to a travel decision that satisfies their overall needs. One of my favorite quotes on routes is that a" route can be experienced without necessarily ever arriving at a destination, and in turn, a destination can be experienced without following a route" (Murray and Graham, 1997).

Routes have emerged around the world primarily to link products in rural areas where awareness of products is enhanced by creating greater access for visitors who otherwise may not put in the effort to travel to an area. While the impacts of route tourism are still being studied, there is some evidence that routes promote partnership among tourism suppliers resulting in expanded market opportunities. Some have shown that visitors will stay longer and spend more in a region - something many rural areas are striving for.

This week I want to summarize some points from an article called "Route tourism: a roadmap for successful destinations and local economic development" written by Marlien Lourens. Marlien provides some good tips for those who were considering working on tourism routes based on evidence from South Africa and Spain case studies.

Step 1: The route must be grounded in solid market research that identifies key target markets and their needs - this must be done on an ongoing basis to be responsive to trends and shifts in markets.
Step 2: An audit should be done on the tourism products in the area including all natural and cultural assets. It may be valuable to determine criteria to be included as part of the route to ensure consistency of quality in the travel experience.
Step 3: Scrutinize the assets to determine the unique selling features of the area and then develop a macro level strategic plan to consolidate tourism planning for the area.
Step 4: Determine the size of the membership base for suppliers on the route - the buy in of these members is critical to the success of the route for they are the ultimate delivery agents of the experience. It is important to ensure the product mix is diverse and does not over represent any of the sectors (i.e. accommodations) as visitors will expect that all aspects of their experience will be available.
Step 5: Members should establish a clear brand identity for the route and then market this according to the targets identified.
Step 6: Members should decide upon what sort of governance and operational structure they need to ensure that the route is maintained.
Step 7: Members should think long term about the finances required to make the route a success in the minds of visitors. The author suggests that many routes start small and can take 20-30 years to mature and deliver substantial economic benefits and therefore realistic goals should be set about return on investment.

It might be worth considering the potential role of tourism routes to BC's product base as there are currently few well recognized routes available to visitors. While there are a few circle routes listed on the Tourism BC website and drivers see occasional signage on these routes when driving BC highways - there are questions about the level up uptake and ownership of these routes among BC operators or among residents. Are these routes based on ongoing market research or random clusters of natural assets? Do people know about these routes? Are they uniquely positioned in the marketplace? Do operators know which routes they are on and do they tie into these to help position their products? These are all questions we need to ask to understand the impact of these routes or to develop new ones that tie together suppliers in ways that satisfy visitors needs.

The full article citation is: Lourens, M. (2007). Route tourism: a roadmap for successful destinations and local economic development. Development Southern Africa Vol 24, No. 3, September.
Reference to Greffe, X, 1994. Is rural tourism a lever for economic and social development? Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 2:23-40.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Think regional

During my recent leave from work (fall 09), I missed the opportunity to attend the Reversing the Tide: Strategies for Rural Revitalization" conference in Prince George. One of my first to do's getting back was to catch up on the reports from the conference - and I was pleased with the topics and materials that came forth. I would recommend taking a look at the Communities in transition site for more material in particular, I will comment on some of the insights in a paper by Mark Drabenstott titled:
"Summary paper: Revitalizing rural BC: Some lessons from rural America"

In his paper, Mark raises numerous points that those involved in tourism development in rural BC should consider. The key point I wanted to highlight is one that I have been making in presentations and boardrooms for some time now - we need to move beyond community tourism thinking in BC to develop regional thinking. Mark makes the case better than I will in the paper, and provides strategies for this to take place, but I wanted to make some comments to reinforce some of his suggestions based on my experiences in the field.

First - Rural areas need to think regionally because visitors do. Simply put, visitors from key markets are usually not familiar with the small communities in our province. And, when they plan a trip, they are unlikely to travel to just one small community. More realistically, they will decide what region or route they will travel to experience a range of amenities that satisfy their travel needs. Depending on their form of travel, they will likely encounter many other communities on route.
In this scenario, our current form of tourism development (community based investments) may be causing some marketing fatigue and confusion. Additionally, the tradition of community rivals in rural areas often transcends hockey games. We make it a regular practice to stop along communities on route when we are travelling for research and asking residents what we can expect in the community we are going to. We write down verbatim the comments that are made and these inevitably are of interst to the study community because they indicate that communities are pitching themselves against one another in the tourism game instead of collaborating.

Mark makes the points about the need to collaborate very well in his paper. He suggests, and I agree once again, that these regions need to be self determined and not follow traditional jurisdicational boundaries if these are not appropriate. I see this in many areas of BC where unique tourism products exist and small groups are working together to leverage their ideas for the betterment of all (Gold Countries Community Society, Alaska HWY, Yellowpoint Cedar area...) but they often have to battle against jurisdictional lines that impede their success and require significant acumen in governance issues. So when I suggest more regional thinking, I am not necessarily suggesting that our current tourism regions take on the task of regional tourism development. For, as you can see by the map itself, these regional lines do not necessarily represent the type of unique competitiveness that Mark is recommending. In fact, for those interested in regional tourism development - it might be a good exercise to consider your regional map completely void of lines and work instead on what the competitive assets are that can be bundled together to create experiences (tourism products) that are unique to the market.

I was reminded many times throughout the article about the good work being done by all the leaders, operators and associations in the Northeast of BC. They were part of a Regional roundtable in 2007-08 that illustrated many of Marks points. As the evaluator of this initiative, I had the opportunity to travel up north many times and observe the process that the group went through. Although the project met up with some operational issues in the end, I think it is fair to say that collectively the points about working together as a region were made. At one of the first meetings - Mayors and First Nations leaders from communities along the Alaska HWY (one of BC's unique products) got together in a room - perhaps for the first time. It took sometime for people to understand that they were expanding their scope of stewardship to extend beyond political domains. But using exercises like storytelling and the sharing of knowledge, the region made headway with regionalizing tourism. The project also exemplified the challenges that Mark cautions about - government agencies are not often supportive of the efforts to think regionally as it requires new alliances and support systems. Or his quote "it requires reaching across long established jurisdictional boundaries which have often been more like battle lines than invitations to collaboration" (p.11). Also, the entire effort is slower and more process oriented - it isn't about quick decisions about which capital projects to fund in a community - it requires a shift to think what the region needs to pursue opportunities that give them a competitive edge.

BC has used a dominant community based tourism development paradigm for a long time. Our funding programs have endorsed the idea that communities can direct their destiny by getting their tourism house in order. While this is important at one point in the continuum, I have long believed that we will not achieve our full potential until we think the way our markets do about our products and combine our limited assets to leverage our strengths.

So - next time you are working on community tourism initiatives, ask yourself how engaged your community is in defining what the regional visitor experience is like. It's time - let's add this language to our discussions and receive the same benefits Mark highlights for rural regions in the US.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

BC's first rural tourism conference coming up!

Over the years as we have travelled from region to region in BC with our students, we have met over 700 community leaders and business operators that shared their experiences in tourism development with the TRIP team. As early as 2007, the Advisory committee for the project agreed that it would be a good idea to host a conference on rural tourism to help bring people together to learn from one another and develop networks thoughout the province. Indeed, when we arrived in a new community, the first question we were asked was "so what are they doing in X community". There are few opportunities for rural leaders and operators to connect with others and learn new strategies that they can bring back to their community. Indeed, this was one of the reasons we took knowledge on the road with TRIP - and we were often met with people that commented that it was nice for them to not have to travel to the "city" and spend their valuable time and money to gather new ideas.

The idea of a rural conference for a region is not unique - indeed Alberta has been hosting a very successful conference for a decade now (see Growing Rural Tourism Conference). The conference is unlike the typical "industry conferences" where the focus is often on updates from government, agencies and associations and instead it focusses on capacity building for small operators and decision makers in rural areas.

Rob Hood from Thompson Rivers University, one of my colleagues in TRIP, was successful in an application to Western Economic Development last year to build on the success of TRIP and focus on assisting communities in the Pine Beetle affected area of the province. One of the aspects of the province was to host our desired BC Rural Tourism Conference and I am happy to announce that folks should mark their calendars for April 6-8th and plan to travel the the North Shuswap region of BC. More information on the conference can be found on the web. . The call for submissions for workshops, sessions, etc is open right now so consider putting in a proposal to the conference committee to share ideas with all the others that will be there.

We hope the conference brings together many of the people we have met along the way to hear updates on your successes and for us to share with you what we have learned about rural tourism in BC throughout the last few years.

Mark your calendars!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Keeping up with technology

Hello everyone and welcome to the first post of this new blog. I am not usually an early adopter, particularly when it comes to technology (still don't own a cell phone). But, after attending a session on the value of blogs to share knowledge and ideas at the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences in Ottawa in May 2009, I became convinced that blogging could play a role in sharing ideas, insights and innovation with those developing tourism in rural and remote areas of British Columbia (and beyond). So, here it begins...

What I intend to do with the site are a couple of things:

1. Take hard to digest research information from academic, industry and government sources and translate them, pull out the key points and discuss what I think they mean for rural areas;
2. Provide questions around important policy debates, industry issues and other events to help ignite inquiry, debate and dialogue that helps with decision making;
3. Share innovative ideas from businesses and communities that are doing things that others should know about;
4. Explain and instruct on some strategies that will help improve business success in rural areas, or help inform sustainable planning and development decisions at the community and regional level.

It is a tall order and it will take time but I encourage others to follow, contribute and provide me ideas as it evolves. Ask questions and I can investigate the answers, tell me what you or your community is doing, or ask my thoughts on an issue that is facing the industry.

I look forward to helping infuse the industry with this insight into 2010 and beyond.