Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Luncheon for BC Research Chairs

Today I attended a luncheon to recognize research and innovation in BC, hosted by Premier Gordon Campbell. As he nears the end of his leadership for the BC Liberal Party, this was an opportunity to recognize one of the legacies he will leave for the province.

Back in 2002, the province created the BC Leading Edge Endowment Fund and invited proposals from Universities across the province to create Research and Innovation Chairs to add to the intellectual capital of the province in a variety of fields. The fund asked institutions to match funding from the province to create endowment funds that would support research positions in perpetuity. My chair position, the BC Regional Innovation Chair in Tourism and Sustainable Rural Development, was one of those funded in the province.

As I listened to some of the other accomplishments of the Chairs and the Premier, I was motivated to think boldly about the opportunities ahead in my position. Having a position funded “forever” and in a neutral body like the University allows for some certainty and consistency to pursue questions that need to be answered in rural development. I left the event tasking myself about the key research questions, the potential work and the legacy that the Chair can make for rural BC communities. I don’t have the answers yet, but there are a few ideas that I am going to bounce off some trusted colleagues and stakeholders in rural tourism development. I believe that good decisions are made with good information and my role in the system is to identify gaps in this knowledge and then work with others to fill those gaps and get information to those that can most benefit from it.

As I head back into the field to collect data for my current research project - this experience has reminded me of the privileged position I have in the larger picture and I plan to think boldly about how to make the best use of the opportunities before us. I am always open to hearing ideas – so if you are thinking boldly as well – I encourage you to share your thoughts with me.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Finding success stories in Amentiy Based Rural Development

I am currently working with a team of researchers on a contract for the Canadian Rural Secretariat to profile three rural regions of Canada where natural and cultural amenities have been used to drive development in a collaborative way. Our team has been out in the field conducting research in the case regions we have selected including Kings County, Nova Scotia, the Charlevoix region of Quebec and the Columbia Basin region in BC. We hope to be able to understand what some of the keys to success have been in these regions so that ABRD, as an approach for rural Canada, can be advanced with evidence based decision making.

ABRD is new language and I have found myself having to explain it to folks a bit while in the field. So, thought I would take a chance to give the ABRD 101 version on the blog.

Amenity based rural development is an approach to rural development. Essentially, natural and cultural amenities are viewed as potential drivers of development. But instead of being viewed as resources for extraction, they are seen as things that make regions attractive – to visitors, residents and investors. The attractive value is used to draw people, ideas and investment INTO rural areas, vs. exporting resources out. It differs from traditional views of economic development in that it prioritizes bringing people into an area before jobs – people, especially creative and entrepreneurial people (creative new economy) will then choose to live in rural areas because of their attractive value and in doing so, they will create new economies. These new economies can be linked to amenities (so industries like tourism, recreation, arts and culture) but they can also be unrelated – for example, someone could choose to run their oil company in Calgary while living in an amenity rich rural area. The key to success for this type of approach is balance – natural and cultural amenities need to be promoted and developed so that people in urban areas know about them and maybe attracted to visit or relocate. But they also need to be protected over the long term so that their value remains constant or better yet, appreciates. I order to do this, areas need to collaborate with multiple stakeholders – and they need to engage in long term planning.

Planning and collaboration are often lacking in rural areas. By and large, most rural areas do no have a planner on staff and if they do, they are often hired at the community vs. regional level. Rural communities are not always engaged in collaboration with regional stakeholders either – by and large, they function at a local level – community by community. Why is this problematic for ABRD? There are thousands of rural communities across Canada – and most have very limited financial and human resources to pursue ABRD on their own. Besides, most natural amenities are not located in communities – they are in peripheral regions and transcend municipal boundaries. The proper promotion and protection of these amenities must be done by multiple stakeholders – local and regional governments, not profit associations and the business community. Each of these stakeholders plays an important role in ARBR – governments in service provision, economic development and planning, not for profits in protection and promotion activities and the business community has to be able to create economy from the amenities.

In many ways ABRD is a new paradigm for rural development. It creates an umbrella, and a unified approach to enhance the quality of life in rural areas by utilizing the amenities available. As a tool, it can bring rural audiences together, support grassroots efforts, and align resources to address issues of depopulation, loss of service provision and economic well being.

If you are interested in learning more about ABRD – there are two events coming up on the calendar that you may want to note – first is a webinar on ABRD hosted by the BC Rural and Community Development Ministry on March 31, 10 - 11:30 am. For more information on how to register keep posted here as I will add that as soon as it is ready. The next is a gathering of minds in one of BC’s amenity rich destinations – 108 Mile House in the Cariboo – at the Hills Health Ranch on April 19-21st. The conference is the Rural Tourism Conference co hosted by TRU, VIU and UNBC (collaboration!). Registration is open and for more information go to

Friday, February 11, 2011

Capacity building in the industry

This week I was asked to lead a workshop on “Understanding your visitors” at the Tourism Vancouver Island Professional Development series. TVI organized full day workshops as a way to build capacity in the industry. From what I can see, they were a great success. One was held in Port Alberni on March 8th and another in Cobble Hill on March 10th.

The line up included an update on TVI marketing opportunities, the workshop on understanding your visitors, followed by a session by "How your business keeps score by Meyers Norris Penny, a session on "Networking - how to" by Nick West, and a closing session on social networking by Jay Somerville from Webacom Media on "Social Networking for your Business".

As the majority of the tourism industry is comprised of small and medium sized businesses, many of whom enter the industry from other occupations – there is a strong need for professional development events like these ones. People need opportunities to keep abreast of what is going on, to learn new things and most of all, to connect with one another. Without these investments in human capital, our industry cannot remain innovative and responsive and we will not have the capacity to collaborate on the many initiatives that we need to.

The event gave me a chance to speak about a topic I am quite passionate about - the need to understand our visitor markets. I am often amazed at how much risky and costly decision making is made on sheer assumptions about who is visiting, what they want, etc. We don't have an ongoing system to provide accurate local data on our visitors, so I tried to get across to folks that they can develop systems to produce their own, or better yet, they can collaborate together to produce information across regions. If you want to know more about the key messages, feel free to download the "how to understand your visitors handbook" on the TRIP site (under resources - for free).

Kudos to TVI for these efforts and for other regional groups in the industry, consider adding more professional development opportunities to your list of industry services – planting these seeds is sure to be appreciated and will pay dividends in the long term.
Photo: team discussing how to use data from visitors at the Cowichan event