Monday, December 17, 2012

National Extension Tourism Conference 2013 - Proposal Call

This is one worth attending, I never miss it.

NET 2013 Call for Proposals

13 National Extension Tourism Conference
“Building Lasting Relationships“
DoubleTree Suites Detroit
Downtown-Fort Shelby
Detroit, Michigan
August 6-9, 2013

The 2013 National Extension Tourism (NET) Conference Program Committee invites proposals for the 2013 NET Conference, the theme of which is “Building Lasting Relationships.” Based on this theme, the Conference Program Committee is seeking proposals for oral presentations, poster presentations, and panel presentations/workshops in the following nine broad topical areas:
  • Rural Tourism Development/Tourism in Resilient Communities
  • Community and Regional Planning and Development
  • Economic, Environmental, and Social Impacts of Tourism and Recreation
  • Agritourism—Local Foods, Farmers Markets, Culinary Tourism
  • Heritage and Cultural Tourism
  • Nature-Based Tourism: Ecotourism, Wildlife Enterprises, Adventure Tourism, Coastal Tourism
  • Marketing and Promotion
  • Training and Evaluation
NET 2013 Proposal Guidelines
NOTE: To submit a proposal click on the "NET 2013 Proposal Submission Page."

The Program Committee encourages all proposal submitters to “connect” their work in tourism and recreation development to the conference’s “Building Lasting Relationships” theme, and is calling for new presentations (previously unpublished) and/or projects in progress. Please note: If a proposal is accepted for presentation at the conference, presenters must register for the conference.
The deadline for proposal submission is March 1, 2013, with notification of submission status by March 22, 2013. Visit the conference website at for further information on the 2013 NET Conference, Proposal Submission and Guidelines

Friday, November 23, 2012

Save the dates! Attracting and retaining young adults to rural communities conference

Probably the most frequent issue I hear voiced at the community level is the concern about how to attract and retain young adults to settle in rural areas.  So, I've decided to pull together some people to help host a National Conference on that topic. Working with Dr. Terri McDonald (BC Regional Innovation Chair in Rural Economic Development at Selkirk) and community partners in Golden (Golden Area Initiatives) we want to announce to everyone that shares an interest in this topic to save the dates on your calendar and share widely with others!


Rural Resurgence : Innovative Solutions for the Attraction and Retention of Young Adults

June 11-14, 2013

In Golden, BC

The event will bring together a mix of individuals ranging from researchers from a variety of disciplines that have studied interventions, to communities that have piloted innovative projects and governments that have supported initiatives.  The event will be infused with the voices of young adults who will give their opinions on what attracts them to rural areas.  It will not be a regular conference, but designed in a way to provide opportunities for sharing and exchange so that everyone leaves with new insights and ideas to address this concern in their own context.

We are also gearing up for sponsorship and partners for the event. If this is something you would like to be a part of and support, please contact Nicole Vaugeois at VIU (nicole.vaugeois at viu dot ca) for more information.  Our website is just being designed right now but keep posted here for more information and when ready, we will post more details on the event.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Cultural Tourism, Realizing the Opportunity

The course, “Cultural Tourism, Realizing the Opportunity”, is again being offered by the University of Victoria’s Cultural Resource Management program. The course dates are January 21 – 26, 2013.

This year’s course will include a detailed case study of Whistler’s place-based cultural tourism strategy, developed following the 2010 Winter Olympics.
 T: + 1 (519) 747 - 0349
F: + 1 (519) 747 - 7859

The Rural Opportunities Network launched!

The Rural Opportunities Network website was recently launched with the goal of helping small and medium-scale natural resource-based businesses in Canada succeed in a tough economic climate. The network is an open, bilingual network where people can access and share information on a diverse range of topics, from agroforestry to non-timber forest products to marketing and social media, and much more. It is designed to share information and ideas, connect individuals and organizations across Canada and help them learn from a growing collection of resources and tools.

The Tools and Resources page provides links to a collection of documents and other websites as well as providing users the opportunity to share their expertise. The Rural Opportunities Collection includes fact sheets along with guidebooks, business plans and case studies. Fact sheets provide easy to read advice on topics ranging from using social media and e-marketing to greening your business. Guidebooks to help in assessing the tourism potential of an area and publications on community forests, mushroom harvesting, and essential oil production and many other topics are featured in the Guidebooks and Toolkits section. A series of videos on topics including woodlot management, small scale sawmilling, native plant nursery management and marketing of niche products including floral greenery and wild mushroom is also featured. The website includes lists of advisors to help grow rural businesses and upcoming events.

The National Buyer’s and Seller’s Directory provides the opportunity for producers to advertise business or services (for free!). Building on the success of “BuyBCwild” and “From Our Atlantic Woods”, this new national Directory lists suppliers of a wide range of natural resource products, from fine furniture to maple syrup. An interactive map shows the location of each listing enabling consumers to find businesses near them. Producers can use this to help determine what products or services are availalble or needed locally.

The website was developed by the Center for Livelihoods and Ecology at Royal Roads University in partnership with Biopterre, the Institute for Culture and Ecology, FORREX, INFOR, Untamed Feast and the Canadian Model Forest Network, with funding from the Rural and Cooperatives Secretariat and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Public Outreach and Dissemination portfolio.

You can help build the network by sending links to information and sharing your expertise. Contact us at or at

Written by Evelyn Hamilton, Jenny Sigalet and Tim Brigham, Centre for Livelihoods and Ecology, Royal Roads University.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Webinar on Resilience

Webinar: The Resilience Imperative -

Remaking the CED Agenda?

A discussion with Michael Lewis, co-author, The Resilience Imperative: Cooperative Transitions to a Steady-State Economy

Tuesday, October 16 - 12 pm Eastern ep

Register today for a feature webinar discussion with Michael Lewis on Resiliency – a next step for local economies in the transition to a low-carbon future.

In their new book, The Resilience Imperative, Lewis and co-author Pat Conaty (new economics foundation) show how energy, food, housing, finance, and other sectors familiar to community economic development (CED) practitioners can be reinvented at a more local and regional scale, buffering communities from the economic shocks that the global transition to lower-carbon economies will likely entail.

This 1-hour session will begin with a discussion between Lewis and Mike Toye, Executive Director of the Canadian Community Economic Development Network (CCEDNet). A question and answer period with participants will follow. Participants who register early will be able to send questions in advance of the session.
Cost: CCEDNet members - free; Non-members - $20.

Click here to register for this Webinar. ________________________________________

Michael Lewis has been involved for over 35 years as a practitioner and author in CED, development finance, and the social and co-operative economy, including entrepreneurial development, network building, strategic assistance to CED organizations, and curriculum design for community resilience.

The Resilience Imperative is the culmination of years of research undertaken through the BC-Alberta Social Economy Research Alliance (BALTA), a community-university research collaboration funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.


Friday, September 21, 2012

Linking with industry through our greatest resources - students

I love where I work.  Today I attended a Cooperative Education Symposium hosted by the Campus Career Center at Vancouver Island University.  The event brought together a range of employers from recreation, tourism and hospitality to recognize the role they play in education and also to profile fourth year students case studies.  There are rare occasions where we stop and pause for a moment and recognize each others role in this complex delivery system.

Educators are not always included as agents in the tourism delivery system - yet we are responsible for producing the industry's most valued asset - great people for the labour market and research to drive good decisions with. Today's event brought those threads closer together and made the reality of our interdependence extremely obvious.

The students case studies covered a range of topics from what to do about alcohol in public recreation facilities, to global labour market, to the suitability of paintball at camps, tipping behavior, Leaders in Training Programs and volunteerism (and many more...). Well done students and thanks for sharing.

Both our President - Dr. Ralph Nilson and our Vice-President Dr. David Witty attended and provided congratulatory remarks to employers and students. This show of support for experiential education doesn't cost a thing, and yet holds so much value to employers and students. Thanks for taking time out of your day to demonstrate your supportive leadership.  And to Micki McCartney and Lynda Robinson - well done!  Thanks for taking the initiative to pull something like this together. Your report is great and your work is greatly appreciated.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Pondering product development

Yesterday I had the good fortune to spend the day in the room with a collective brain trust of people from BC to ponder tourism product development.  The day was organized by staff of Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training (Tourism British Columbia). It was a super opportunity to relay a number of insights that I have gained through fieldwork, research and comparison to other destinations over the years. I know that the perspectives shared by the wisdom in the room will be helpful for BC to continue its pursuit of excellence as a destination.

Many of my previous posts touch on the topic of product development. I find that the topic is often a misunderstood concept among people in tourism.  While product is one of the "p's" in the traditional marketing sense, in tourism, it is often neglected in terms of overall strategy.  At the provincial or national level in many destinations, one can see that the majority of funding and other supports are targeted toward "promotions" as they are assumed to bring the best return on investment.  But, for many rural communities - or destinations that are at early stages of development - the product is not at a state of readiness to be able to provide consistent, high quality experiences (the actual product in tourism). And thus, from an economic development standpoint - these areas are missing out on opportunities to benefit from tourism at the local level and this potential revenue is also lost for the regional/provincial economy.  For these areas, a focus on product is vital to allow them to enter into the market and for the redistribution and circulation of financial benefits within a province.

But, it is not just about rural communities - all innovation processes rely on a commitment to continuous quality improvement. Investing into product is a requirement for all long term success of tourism destinations. Tourism experiences are dynamic and must remain responsive to social trends.  What is popular today is not guaranteed to be popular tomorrow and as such, reflection on what experiences are offered, where and for who is critical for destinations. The business world does this take up at the local and firm level, but there is a role for regions and provinces to reflect on this as well and to provide appropriate supports to enable the market to function in a way that visitors can connect to emerging products.

I am always on the watch for innovative product development supports around the world - and this is an opportunity to share a few that are worth looking at. For those that want to know more (or share others with me)- take a peek at these...

Hawaii Tourism Authority - Product Enrichment program. The HTA's Product Enrichment Program funds a number of programs supporting efforts to ensure a quality tourism product and unique experiences. Included are the County Product Enrichment Program, Community-Based Natural Resources Program, and Kukulu Ola: Living Hawaiian Culture Program.

Canadian Badlands Corporation - Canadian Badlands Ltd. (CBL) is a not-for-profit Alberta Corporation providing a new and innovative approach to creating an integrated, destination-based tourism industry in South-Eastern Alberta. CBL is the largest co-operative regional partnership of municipal governments in Alberta. The shareholders are 62 municipal governments recognizing the power of co-operative efforts to develop and implement a strategic regional tourism development plan. Check out their array of product development supports!

The US Extension System - the Public University system in the US has an extension system to provide supports for communities and regions within the University territories. I have benefited tremendously from working through Michigan State years ago, and my favourite conferences remain to be the National Extension Tourism Conferences where all of the folks who do on the ground work in product development gather every couple of years.  The range of innovative supports provided through these Universities is a great asset for all levels of government to take note of. Take note of Texas, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

Market readiness programs - Helping operators go from good to great and keeping the idea of innovation alive is at the heart of market readiness programs which are popular in Eastern Canada. Check out Newfoundland , and NF Labrador.

Mentorship programs - to allow businesses to learn from who they really want to learn from - successful entrepreneurs!  Check out Nova Scotia's program

Share other ideas - what do you need, what do destinations need or what do you know about that really works?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tourism, arts, culture and economic development at Global Mural Conference

I had the good fortune this week to attend a great conference on arts, culture, economic development and tourism right in my own backyard.  The Global Mural Conference was held in Chemainus, BC and the organizers assembled a great combination of speakers for the gathering.  The day kicked off with a great video on Chemainus and its evolution.  Narrated by Karl Schutz, the video tells a story of vision, leadership, community spirit and success.  I was happy to be sharing the room with so many great people, including about 9 of our graduate students from the Masters in Sustainable Leisure Management here at VIU. Their program emphasizes what it takes to create positive collective change, so to witness a local case study where all the components come together was great.

They also had the great fortune to hear from one of the most respected voices in community change - Bill Baker.  We heard Bill speak twice during the day - once on secrets of successful destinations and again later on branding.  I know many communities have benefited from Bill's work and have witnessed the influence he has had while out on my fieldwork. The day closed with an interesting roundtable session with the Mayors of Qualicum Beach (Teunis Westbroek), Parksville (Chris Burger), Ladysmith (Rob Hutchins) and North Cowichan ( Jon Lefebure).  Together, they profiled what their communities have been doing to enhance quality of life and to use tourism, arts and culture as a core economic development strategy. I found their addresses playfully competitive but at the same time, you could tell that there was a respect for one another which is the prerequisite to regional collaboration.

The intimate nature of the conference was great - it allowed people to speak to one another, walk along the streets and hear from different perspectives. The conference had a wide range of delegates from all corners of the globe.

Pulling off these sorts of gatherings is no small feat - and I want to acknowledge the effort of everyone in Chemainus that pulled this together and of the efforts of the speakers to come and share their knowledge and innovation with others. It is the best way to learn - thank you.

Photos - the MA gang with community visionary Karl Schutz and the program of the conference showing sponsors.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association Regional Strategy

I have long wondered why our planning processes around tourism are often so short sited and so promotion focused when tourism is a powerful change agent that takes years to develop and requires the efforts of so many different stakeholders. Complexity is hard to deal with I guess...
But I have some hope going forward! While in Osoyoos this summer, I had the good fortune to hear about the 10 year regional strategy being put forward but the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association (TOTA).  I was so impressed, I told Glenn that I would make sure to write down my observations so that other destinations might be able to learn from their good work.

My graduate work focused on tourism planning, and from what I recall in terms of best practices - TOTA's efforts check off a lot of boxes... including:

  1. It is research based.  The plan is based on consultations, surveys, data on consumers travel behavior and regional assets.
  2. It is visitor centric. The research used profiles what consumers do and want vs. what those in the destination assume about visitors. It makes a conscious choice about which visitor markets best fit the types of experiences that are offered in the region.
  3. It recognizes complexity within the regions sub regions. Larger communities and rural areas and the unique nature of their products are incorporated AND there are obvious themes that connect the story and experience together for visitors.
  4. It emphasizes collaboration. This is not a TOTA plan, it is a regional destination development plan that recognizes the range of actors that are required to make it come alive.
  5. It is story based.  Instead of promoting distinct sectors within tourism, it recognizes that visitors have multiple interests in multiple communities and it connects the regions sense of place through stories.
  6. It is non sectoral and shows cross sectoral connections.  Agriculture, wineries, ranching are all connected to tourism through the product offerings which will strengthen the recognition of tourism as an economic and social agent.
  7. It focuses as much on developing and enhancing products as it does on promotion and marketing.
  8. It recognizes the power of tourism and its role in sustainability.
  9. It is forward thinking and long term.
  10. It is creative and it is innovative...
I commend those at TOTA for designing such an innovative process. Innovation is not an easy task - risk takers are likely to encounter resistance and nay sayers - but in my opinion, you are weaving together the threads of a very strong tapestry - a plan that, if people can commit to and monitor - should make the region an icon for BC for years to come.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

8th Global Mural Conference in Chemainus - Mark your calendars!

Mural Capital of British Columbia on Vancouver Island Hosts

Strategies and templates for small town success!

Presentations in conjunction with the 8th Global Mural Conference

CHEMAINUS, BC - - This year, Chemainus will welcome the world to its doorstep as it hosts the 8th Global Mural Conference (GMC), a conference to highlight arts and culture economic generators

For four days in September the conference will welcome economic development executives, tourism boards, municipal CEOs and decision makers, international and local muralists, artists and painters to explore methods to create a competitive edge in economic development and tourism utilizing the arts and culture.

“This conference is not like all those other economic development conferences you may have heard about or attended,” said Lou Roelofsen, Co-Chair of the 8th GMC. “We have a totally unique approach to economic development, which has been successful, and is continuing to be implemented in our region and in Chemainus, BC.”

The conference, running September 10-13, 2012, will draw upon international, as well as regional expertise from local Vancouver Island communities, including municipal government officials, North Cowichan Mayor, Jon Lefebure, and CAO Dave Devana, Randal Huber of the highly successful Chemainus Theatre Festival, Dr. Karl Schutz who spearheaded the Chemainus mural program, international artist Dan Sawatzky, and keynote speaker Bill Baker, author and international tourism branding expert.

Baker said cities of all sizes, into the next decade, will have to work harder at marketing themselves and developing a competitive identity, than has ever been done in the past.

“Chemainus is an excellent example for delegates to experience how public art can be used as an economic development strategy,” said Baker.

Some of the points that Baker will cover during his keynote address at the three day conference include: why tourism has an important economic development role during today's tough economy; how tourism and public art can benefit investment; new business relocation, and recruitment of new residents; how small cities can increase their competitiveness; and, how to get "more bang" from marketing.

Chemainus showed the world its true spirit and determination, achieving fame through the hands of artists, after the community’s sawmill, North America’s largest at the time, closed its doors in 1982. The town now boasts a booming arts scene which converges with its history and local attractions, and proudly showcases local and international talents.

“Against commentary that suggested we couldn’t do it, Chemainus has shown it is the Little Town That Could. ...and Did,” said Tom Andrews, Chemainus Festival of Murals Society President.

“Consequently, we are in a good position to share what we have learned, and continue to learn here – and to reach out to embrace similar visions.”

For Further Information -

Name: Tom Andrews
Contact number: 250 2102402
A Congress on Economic Development Through the Arts, Culture & Tourism
8th Global Mural Conference

Friday, June 22, 2012

Wise practices in Indigenous Community Development Sept 13-15 2012

I had the pleasure of sitting beside, and getting to know, two young ladies Anna and Katie from the Banff Center at the conference in Osoyoos this weekend.  They let me know about an upcoming conference that I thought people would be interested in attending - so mark your calendars.

September 13-15, 2012 a conference on "Wise practices in indigenous community development" will take place at the Banff Center.  The agenda looks great and includes the results from a series of case studies where inspiring success stories emerged.

Our conversation also picked up on the need to find ways to share the voices of young adults with respect to attraction and retention in rural, remote and aboriginal communities. It sounds like they have been doing some very innovative work to learn about young aboriginal leaders so I think I have also found another speaker for our conference next year on "Attracting and Retaining Young Adults to Rural Regions". We are still working to submit the proposal, so we will share more as soon as we have a date to announce.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Cross border collaboration - VIA 97

At this weeks conference I had the pleasure to hear Chris Branch, Community Development Director for the City of Oroville, WA speak about Via 97. 

I will borrow from their website to describe this unique international alliance:
"The VIA 97 International Alliance consists of partners from both sides of the border from our northernmost community, Salmon Arm, British Columbia to our southernmost, Leavenworth, Washington. The Alliance has the full and active support of elected officials from three counties and their cities in Washington State (Okanogan, Chelan, and Douglas), the elected officials from the three Regional Districts and their communities in British Columbia (RDOS, CORD, NORD), the Colville confederated Tribes and the Okanagan Nations Alliance.
Historically, the Highway 97 corridor was known as the Okanogan Caribou Trail and had great economic significance to early residents. Maps from this early time show this as a vital trade route with very little emphasis on the line of demarcation created by the US/Canada border. The VIA 97 International Alliance recognizes the significance of this highway, which has served such an important role in the economic health of our interior region and offers opportunities for those communities lying along Highway 97."

Chris went into the origin and maintenance of this alliance in great detail. I listened intently as one of the most frequent questions I get when I advocate working together regionally, is how exactly that should happen. So many well intended alliances or partnerships start out but fail after they are out the gate.  Competition, mistrust, egos, personality issues or lack of communication seem to be most often at fault.  As Chris talked I could see one of the elements keeping this alliance alive was consistent leadership or involvement by some key people, and likely, a track record of some significant accomplishments that are in line with their mission.  What I also thought was interesting was that there was a focus, at least on the WA side, of maintaining relationships and communication over chasing projects.  He said they often felt pressure to be "doing something" like creating a project, yet, the essence of their work was intact. He said that on the WA side, economic development folks meet on the same day each month for face time in the same place. Over time, others have joined in to have their meetings happen at the same time. What a simple and novel idea! Imagine the productivity that happens and the efficiency of timing a bunch of meetings with the folks that all need to talk on a regular basis in a central location!  He pointed out the names and titles of about 20 people on one of his slides, evidencing that he has got to know these people and their work - and no doubt, the strength of those relationships transfer over to a number of other initiatives outside of the VIA 97 work.

I have long felt that when groups can build social capital on one initiative like tourism, the benefits transfer over into other engagements. Chris's talk validated that thinking and perhaps provides one more reason to focus on the right things in regional collaboration - what we have in common, and the building of trusting and enduring relationships. I have a graduate student, Marc Sorrie, working with April Moi on the Northern Alaska Highway and he is exploring cross jurisdiction engagement there - I am curious to know what he will find out and suggest that he, or others interested in making visitor experiences that cross jurisdictional boundaries easier - connect with Chris for some perspective from the VIA 97 collaboration.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Electric vehicle tourism in North Central Washington

Yesterday at the Pacific Northwest Economic Development Conference I had the pleasure to learn about an exciting new initiative taking place south of the border to make it easy for electric vehicle drivers to travel in North Central Washington. I thought it was so well executed and such an innovative and forward thinking initiative that many of you in other areas could piggy back on their ideas.

More and more people in urban locations, the primary market for many rural tourism destinations, are purchasing electric cars. I learned a lot yesterday from Ron Johnston Rodriguez about the innovation happening in electric vehicles. The market for EV is particularly strong in Seattle. Picking up on the infrastructure needs that EV users have for charging stations, a number of actors have been working together to create EV corridors from the City. This will enable EV users to travel out of the city and explore rural areas with confidence that they can find "fuel" to return.

The corridor is also equipped with signage to illustrate where the EV charging stations are (see below)

Ron described the collaboration that has taken place to pilot the EV corridor for tourism.  The corridor is the World's First EV Corridor. A quote from their website that describes the project says "The three DC Fast Charging stations and accompanying Level 2 stations will allow drivers of appropriately equipped electric vehicles (e.g. Nissan Leafs and Mitsubishi i-MiEVs with fast charging capability) to make the trip between the two regions and become EV tourists. Several hotels in North Central Washington—including Sleeping Lady Resort in Leavenworth and Springhill Suites in Wenatchee—are standing ready to accommodate these pioneering EV tourists with free charges for hotel guests at their on-site Level 2 charging stations. In addition, several other Level 2 charging stations in Wenatchee are at the ready including two behind the Convention Center and two at Stevens Pass Ski Area."

To pilot the corridor and make sure it works, the partnership invited 12 EV users to travel the route and use the charging stations. This just happened last weekend and according to Ron, it was a great success. As demand for the stations increases and people can see the opportunities associated to it, both from the demand and the supply side, I am sure that expansion will happen. What I so appreciated about Ron and the project was the "can do attitude" and collaboration that took place to make this happen. There are always enough nay sayers in the room who can find fault or problems with every innovative idea and that is certainly the case with the EV movement. But if we don't take risks and try, we will never be able to do what is natural to humans - evolve, enhance and adapt. 

After the session I had a great lively chat with Ron and said I had the perfect tag line for them "Recharge your batteries here" getting at the opportunity to get out of the urban madness for awhile and recharge not only EV batteries but our human batteries as well in great rural settings. He laughed. As I had done a talk on amenity development as the NEXT approach for economic development that am, I told him I could also see how something like this would create a positive impression on visitors to view the region as "with it", "innovative" and "hip", all descriptors that would be attractive to people considering relocating or investing in the area.

Well done Washington, kudos to you all. I wish you the best of success with this and will share your work with others widely.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Inspiration from Chief Clarence Louie

Last night, the Pacific Northwest Economic Development Conference kicked off with a Welcome at the Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Center in Osoyoos. The organizers had asked Chief Clarence Louie to do a welcome to the delegates and I think I speak for all of us in saying that it was a big hit.  I found his comments refreshing, open, honest, and at times humorous. He sat on the front stage and casually addressed the group clarifying his position and approach as the leader of the Osoyoos Indian Band. He admits that his message isn't shared by everyone but he says if leaders try to please everyone, they end up accomplishing little. His focus as leader is to provide jobs and economic prosperity to not only the members of the band, but to area workers. He believes that economic salvation is the only way forward for First Nations communities and with it, opportunities to fund social programs and environmental causes will be available without continuing the dependent relationship with the federal government.

I found many of his comments validated the entrepreneurial spirit that I was brought up with at home and was further en cultured in being raised in Alberta.  And, his messages also validated reading in sustainability where we now recognize that to be sustainable means we cannot view profit as a dirty word or economic health as secondary to environmental and social health. Economic gains do not have to come at the loss of other forms of prosperity and indeed, we are often in a better position to foster sustainability efforts when our communities are not in poverty. He commented for example, that investments in cultural and environmental programs are the norm at Nk'Mip. He said it is one of the things he likes the best about making money for the band, it helps them to invest back into these sorts of initiatives.

If you get the opportunity to read some of his talks, watch a YouTube speech or see him in person - I think you will learn from his messages and experience and even if you don't agree fully - he may challenge your thinking (which is healthy for us). If all else fails and you don't agree with his message - I think he would say "that's democracy"!  Thanks for sharing your messages Chief Louie.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Getting people to stop on route - the ice cream factor

Ice cream is magic.  Last summer when I was in Okanagan Falls, I stopped at a very well marked venue called Tickleberry's just south of town. Yesterday on route down to Osoyoos, the place once again caught my eye and I thought I would do a post on the magic stopping power of ice cream. Sugar addicts can perhaps relate, but once a person gets a hankering for a taste of sweets like ice cream, it can lure a car off the highway as fast as a washroom break. For those who are struggling to try and get people to stop, a well positioned and run ice cream venue can do the trick - I've seen it work in Chemainus, Cochrane, AB and other areas.

Tickleberry's has a large building that houses an impressive collection of local arts and culinary treats and room for the long line ups that inevitably arrive each summer. There were at least 6 staff behind the ice cream counter yesterday serving generous amounts of ice cream to visitors - and in the time I browsed around the store - the line up was 12 people deep (Sunday at about 5 pm in June). When I was in the line up, two little boys were playing beside me and I realized that the store had thought about the store experience from the little guys perspective - they were looking at little bears in windows that were positioned about 2.5 feet high along the counter.  This was keeping the little guys occupied while waiting in the line up, likely a popular move with the parents.

Too bad my flight back is at 6 am on Thursday, likely a bit early for ice cream anyways! Stop in sometime when you are in the region or think about whether or not your area could use a well positioned ice cream shop to get visitors to stop for a bit = then lure them to explore or play a bit while they are out of the car.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Vancouver Island Visitor Center

Well, maybe it is because I am traveling so much these past few weeks but today I had a meeting up in Courtenay which was held at the new Vancouver Island Visitor Center - one of the icon centers in the province and I must say - WOW. This is a case study of every best practice that exists in visitor center development - I was super impressed.

The center is well signed and located just off the main entrance to the City and is identified by a symbol of the area - a plane. There is lots of parking and the facility is impressive in size and scope - inviting to say the least.  Inside, there is a nice new meeting room for community use, an open concept space with a large counter area for staff, a shopping space for local gifts, an area for computer searches and wireless access, couches and a fireplace for relaxing or reading...and most impressive - in the back area there is an interactive area that profiles the region for the visitor.  The displays profile the amenities of the area including wildlife, recreation and sports, agriculture and sustainability initiatives. When we were there the place was full of visitors in all corners of the venue. As we enjoyed our BBQ on the outdoor patio, I couldn't help but wonder how impressive it must be for visitors to arrive here and form a positive impression of the area. I also wondered, as I often do, about the inconsistent experience that visitors must have though as they travel throughout the province to different VIC's as they range in quality sometimes quite drastically.

It must have been a huge undertaking to accomplish this project, and I wish all those involved success with the venture and will definitely encourage my own guests this summer to stop in on route up island.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Locations and collections

When staying in Grand Forks, I chose to head to the Luna B and B for my accommodation. I used my iphone to google the location on my map and it brought me right to the front door. Talk about location of choice - they are situated right next door to the heritage center which also serves as a visitor information center (notice the trend of multi purpose spaces with nice visitor centers from my last post?).  I'll come back to the heritage center in a moment. While parking was a  bit of an issue, I was happy with my room and was particularly impressed at the trust shown to have visitors in a room with an impressive collection of antique science equipment.  I'd never seen this before in a room, but must admit, it was tastefully displayed and really fascinating to look at all the varieties of microscopes displayed.

Back to the heritage center - I am always impressed when communities elevate the importance of locating the visitor center in a building that shows off valued amenities.  The Grand Forks Visitor Center is located in a beautiful old heritage building made of stone. It is well kept and presented and shares space with a gallery and what looks to be like other offices (like most centers, it was closed when I arrived - we have to find ways to solve this - like QR codes?). Accessible, impressive, multi tasking, and large enough to serve visitors - some key best practices for visitor centers. Well done Grand Forks and Christina Lake... and have a great season.

I had about 20 people in my session at the BC Rural Summit where I did a workshop on how to identify and assess amenities for rural development. The participants were from rural communities all over BC and I must say, they were an absolute joy to work with. I had to leave early but I understand that the approach resonated with folks throughout the conference and I look forward to working with many of those I met on sorting out next steps for BC rural communities that are keen on the approach. Together we have lots to learn. I will post the handouts on my website when I finally get back home (still on route).

Monday, June 11, 2012

Innovation in wastewater as a resource

This week I had the opportunity to travel to the beautiful southern portion of the province for the BC Rural Summit in Grand Forks and Christina Lake. I always welcome the opportunity to head into this region and the organizers couldn't have chosen a better location for the theme of this year's conference on sustainability.

The first night there was a welcome hosted at the Christina Lake Arts Center. What an impressive facility for the community on so many levels. The center is another example of an innovative combination of a visitor information center which serves multiple purposes as an Art Center and an education facility on the local ecology. Green design is at the core of the facility - with a quote from their site "Green Building is the approach of the new Centre, with technologies such as super-insulation, heat recycling, passive solar, a Solar Aquatics System for waste water processing, geothermal heating and cooling, and environmentally based design that is sensitive to the surroundings. The buildings will become a destination in themselves, as people look for energy saving construction techniques to save $ and our planet."

I was lucky enough to get a tour of the Solar Aquatics System at the facility.  This system is integrated into the Center to turn human waste into a resource. It treats raw sewage and other wastewater with biological methods using plant and bacteria life- producing no odour, no chemicals and treating both liquids and solids.  The venue is impressive and I can see visitors remembering it fondly - and I do think it must create a positive impression of the innovation in the region and the care taken to protect the environment while doing business. As my tour guide said - they are probably one of the few venues that encourages visitors and locals to come by and use their facilities to keep bacteria levels in the system going!

Stop by for a visit when you are in the area, and borrow their ideas for those considering a new visitor center.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Introducing Terri MacDonald, BCRIC at Selkirk College

When the BCRIC's were created in BC, one of the first to reach their matching funds was the BCRIC in Rural Economic Development at Selkirk College. I had the good fortune to get to know and work with George Penfold, the original BCRIC. I benefited from his connections, his experience and his way of questioning rural development in the province. I am lucky to continue this working relationship with him now that he is on the island.

My good fortune continues as I have been getting to know Dr. Terri MacDonald, the new BCRIC at Selkirk. We had a good meeting together at the National Rural Policy Summit and are already brainstorming some potential collaboration (see above meeting photo!). First one is linking on a conference in BC next  year to address a core issue limited economic development in many rural areas of the province - the inability to attract and retain young adults into rural areas. We are planning to put in a SSHRC proposal to host a conference, likely in Golden, to bring together knowledge on this topic. Watch for more information and if it sounds like something you are keen to be involved in, let me know as we are currently inviting partners.  We also talked about having a series of research projects in her region that our Graduate students can be a part of. She was so impressed with Marc Sorrie, one of my current MA students that she said to send her some like him!  We also brainstormed projects and I shared with her one of my ideas that I floated around a bit last year - to offer the World's first Graduate degree in Amenity Based Rural Development out of the Kootenay region (which is a ripe laboratory for the model due to its population fluctuations and the natural and cultural amenities).

Watch for more but in the meantime, get to know Terri and her background more by reading about her position at Selkirk.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Think tank on rural development in Ottawa

Whew! Last week in Ottawa was packed with lots of valuable insights from those who gathered for the Second National Rural Policy Workshop in Ottawa. The full list of presentations is provided for you below but I thought I would make a few comments as well. Gathering people together from policy and research is a valuable activity. These two live in very different worlds but need one anothers work to effect long term, strategic change. I will post seperately on what I have learned about research influencing policy in a day or so, but suffice to say - these gatherings are a helpful place to start. We need to know one another, and develop relationships built on trust and recognition of the "world of the other" in order to ensure research has impact in decision making. Thanks to Dr. David Douglas and his team for hosting another wonderful event. I look forward to next year as CRRF has indicated this activity will continue and invites others to partner in the 2013 gathering again in Ottawa.

All of the presentations made at the 2nd national Rural Research Workshop (RRW) “Policy and Research in Community Investment” have been posted on the Workshop Web site: (Click on “Programme/Documents”.) My presentation is linked below for those interested.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

National Rural Research Network in Ottawa

This week I am heading to the Nations Capital to participate in the second National Rural Research Workshop on Policy and Research in Community Investment.  I am looking forward to the program as it brings together folks that I have connected with in the past and it will summarize some very important progress on rural research across the country.  I often feel a bit isolated working on rural research, particularly because I specialize in tourism and amenity development - two topics that are not exactly mainstream in this group.

I will post from the road if I get a chance. My talk is on Thursday where I will present "Pondering Policy and programs to support Amenity Based Rural Development in Canada". This is a presentation that combines insights on ABRD from Thomas Bergbusch, Senior Policy Advisor for Canada's Rural and Cooperatives Secretariat and my thoughts from the past two projects conducted for them.  I will post it after the conference but suffice to say, we tell the story about how a new idea like ABRD has come to be in Canada and where we have yet to go to get policy in support of a new approach to place based development for rural Canada.

I found out last night that the Royal tour is happening - maybe I will get a chance to stand in a crowd of 80,000 to practice my royal "wave"! 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

BC's first Economuseum - Merridale Cidery

On Friday I attended the Inauguration of BC's first Economuseum at the Merridale Cidery in the Cowichan region.  Merridale, along with the Hazelwood Herb Farm, will be piloting this innovative model in the province.

For those who want to learn more about the Economuseum model - see the International Economuseum site here. A quote from this site might help describe it best "This word designates a small, artisanal business, whose operations are not subsidized, and which is recognized for the quality and authenticity of its know-how. Open to the public, the business has special areas for animating and interpreting its art trade by means of pedagogical tools similar to those used in museum interpretation. All of the businesses are self-financed through the sale on site of traditional-style products."

I have had the good fortune to work with Pascale Knoglinger, the catalyst behind this movement making it to the westcoast, on other projects.  She has asked me to assist in evaluating the economic impact of the transition for the first two businesses in BC, to which I have agreed.

This effort piggybacks nicely with my previous post on visitor experience. The Economuseum model is based on producing consistent, high quality visitor experiences at the business level plus collaboration and business clusters.  It has shown to work extremely well in other regions of Canada and internationally. I feel very optimistic about the entry of this model into BC with both Merridale and Hazelwood and hope to see the influence permeate other operators and those involved in regional economic development within the province. Congratulations Merridale!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Maximizing Collective Returns from Tourism

On Wednesday night, I was asked to do a keynote at the Parksville and Qualicum Beach Chambers of Commerce meeting in Qualicum Beach. The two chambers have been getting their members together for seven years now and this gathering had about 170 people in attendance.  I mentioned to them that it was not common for me to see two communities at the business level, come together in this way. This emphasis on collaboration within a somewhat unique region of Vancouver Island is commendable.

I decided to focus my talk on the nature of the visitor experience vs. destination development. While I often like to focus on supply side orientations, I have noted that many stakeholders involved in "product development" often do not understand that the product that is sold in tourism is a visitor experience. So, with that, I described, using others research - what the visitor experience is really all about.  I then used this to segue and deliver the message that many destinations should stop thinking about destination development and they should focus on visitor experience development. This is a growing trend in other countries - Australia links are in the presentation) and somewhat in Canada (Traveler types EQ) and more locally, the BC Tourism Strategy is now focusing on the five stages of visitor experience.

The group was great - they had lots of tough questions for me - but overall, I think the key ideas came across. Thanks Geoff for the invite and Peter for coordinating the event. Well done and continued success.

If you are interested in the presentation - you can find it HERE.
And, I made the news - here is a good summary of my quotes.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Getting a new generation of Canadians interested in travel in our backyard

This morning I awoke to find an email from a young French couple in my home inbox. We have taken "Worldwide Workers Opportunities on Organic Farms" (Wwoofers) to help with farm work at our place. This program essentially offers a work exchange program for individuals traveling - we provide food and accommodation and they provide work in exchange.  We've met some incredible folks over the years and I always enjoy the strong bonds we form with the travellers.

This morning, I began to get some ideas as I read the email from the young french couple. They shared with me, their blog that they are keeping while they travel - its called "how we met Canadians".  They are traveling across Canada and using the blog to record their travels and communicate with their social networks back at home.  I enjoyed their images and experiences and of course, got to thinking a bit too.  This is a common practice for travelers now, to use blogs to record and share their ideas. We know that the majority of travel decisions are influenced stronger by word of mouth and "opinion leaders".  If we put these two together, it appears rather obvious that we could be encouraging destination development a bit more by combining these trends.

What if we ran a national campaign that paid all expenses for some young couples or friends to travel across the country. In exchange, they keep a blog and record their observations and experiences.  The campaign could start with a competition to capture interest in the idea and ask for submissions from different sorts of target markets.  Folks could be chosen based on a variety of criteria, including things like: a) personality, b) travel interests, c) talents (photography, writing, cooking, outdoors, etc), and d) experience with social media.  Those who have extensive social networks in place and are recognized opinion leaders could also be sought out to ensure that their experiences travel broadly back to the intended markets. This is not my area of expertise - but we have a whole generation of people who can advise on constucting something that works.

Investing in this sort of campaign would not only be creative, it could also spark an interest in Canadians traveling within their own country - a trend that could have long lasting benefits for tourism in rural areas. It appears to be started with young couples like the ones that contacted us - let's consider incenting it further.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Equestrian tourism in BC: France Symposium

Last night at 2 am, I delivered a presentation via skype to a group of delegates at a unique gathering in Saumur, France.  The group is gathering together with about 150 delegates from 15 different countries (30 sessions) to explore "Horses, Tourism and Leisure: Continuities, Transformation and Change".  Of all the conferences I want to be at in person, this is the one! It combines my interests in horses, tourism, rural development opportunities and international dialogue. I do wish the delegates the very best and look forward to further dialogue at the Equestrian session at the upcoming International Rural Sociology Conference in Portugal in August.

My presentation was called "Equestrian tourism in British Columbia: Its evolution, current state and potential" (download here). In the presentation, I cover material that has been formed over the last couple of years with some of my undergraduate students (thanks to Alyssa, Juan, Jacquie and Alessandra).  In short, equestrian tourism is a potential niche market for BC. Much travel activity is already occuring but it is not recognized as a unique niche and strategic efforts are not being made to capitalize on the potential of the industry in a meaningful way. With a growing number of equestrians located near urban areas who are looking for things to do (and money to do it usually), this group may be worth looking at - particularly for regions that have amenities already in place (i.e. trails, event facilities).

In order to move this niche forward in BC, we have much to do to establish a common language and understanding about what exactly equestrian tourism is. To this end, my students and I propose a definition and a typology to help that along. It seemed to get a great response from colleagues at the Symposium, and I look forward to hearing how the group developed further clarity in the week.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Developing good tourism policy

Last week I was invited to speak at the Tourism Industry Association of BC to provide an overview of the Federal and Provincial Tourism Strategies with John Willow.  When Dave Petryk first asked I thought, how thrilling could that be - but to be honest, taking time to review and analyse both strategies was good for me. It reminded me of the broader 30,000 foot level that government often takes to support tourism. And, I enjoyed the discussions in preparation for the Summit that I had with John Willow who has been heavily engaged in federal and provincial tourism policy discussions in his career.

I thought I would provide the presentation and a few of my critical comments for those that couldn't attend. If you haven't reviewed the strategies - here are the links for you as well - Canada's federal tourism strategy "Welcoming the World"  and BC's tourism strategy "Gaining the Edge".

There should always be a few take aways from a presentation and the three that I wanted to leave folks with were: 1) there has to be some form of commitment and structure in place to achieve results in a good strategy; 2) government has to play a key role in developing policy for tourism and influencing policy that impacts tourism, and 3) policy has to incorporate how the industry is going to give back or protect the resources it depends on (sustainability concepts).  I don't know if I was able, in my 10 minutes - to get all these across so the lovely thing about social media is that I can do that better here!

First - the Federal tourism strategy is unique in that it clearly indicates what structures it will erect to ensure that the strategy moves forward AND it will not only ask for accountability but it will monitor its own by developing an annual report on the results gained. It embeds industry and specific government departments within the strategy which may also enable clarity and movement on the items identified.  The BC strategy falls a bit short in this respect and while it talks about collaboration, there is little commitment or clear indication of the structures that will be used to achieve results.

Second, there are two types of tourism policy - policy for tourism and policy that impacts tourism. Most recognize that one of the real issues for tourism development is that it requires many layers and different jurisdictions within government to coordinate on their own initiatives.  This point is both recognized and addressed in the Federal strategy as well - they are planning to take a "whole of government" approach to tourism using a cross jurisdictional approach.  While it talks about collaboration, the BC plan does not indicate which entities it will work with within government.

Third, both strategies fall short in "giving back" to the resources that tourism depends upon. The strategies are growth centric vs. balancing the promotion of our amenities for economic development with the protection of resources for social and environmental well being.  The "strange silence" that has fallen across the country with respect to sustainability is quite evident in both of these strategies and one cannot miss questioning its strange absence. But... that is another blog post.

Enjoy the strategies and use them to keep us all moving ahead and to fill in the gaps that exist.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Major blow to rural Canada - recent federal cuts

I have recently heard the news about the significant cuts to Canada's Rural and Cooperatives Secretariat in the recent federal budget (see more details).  While I understand the need for cost cutting measures in government and recognize that everyone will find reasons to defend something someone else would cut, I cannot help but wade in on this one based on my work, experience and observations of relevance.

While most of the response out there has been from the Co-operatives movement (all good points covered in the link provided above), I will focus my comments more on the rural nature of Canada's Rural and Co-operatives Secretariat. Developing mechanisms to support the revitalization of rural areas in a country as large as Canada is challenging to say the least. And while some might question the role of government in rural revitalization, I do not. We have long lived in a country where rural has been equated with agriculture and where supports are targeted at subsidizing sectors in rural areas. Both of these misguided assumptions and strategies has failed to produce the types of impacts that have been desired in rural areas - not just in Canada, but in other countries that have done the same.

There are however, great minds at work that have not only questioned these attempts but have provided new potential solutions to create prosperity in rural areas (with the highest links to poverty - yes, even in Canada).  In Canada, the minds that were behind the steering wheel in government are/were in the Canadian Rural and Cooperatives Secretariat.  Despite being a small unit, this is a mighty one and I have enjoyed opportunities to work with them in past projects. I found that the emphasis on evidence based decision making, innovation and collective prosperity was not only refreshing, but very relevant.  In my work in the field, when many communities members often pick on government representatives, they seemed to speak differently about the folks in the CRCS. They knew them by name, they had met them, they knew of their programs, they benefited from their interactions with them and they were fond of their programs. I guess I mirrored these responses.

I guess I am left with a few questions right now....
  • How can we create a climate of innovation and prosperity for rural Canada when the hard work and forward thinking "low cost" Departments such as the Canadian Rural and Co-operatives Secretariat are so drastically reduced?
  • What happens of the great work on the three priority areas that people had been working on for the past few years?
  • Who will lead the charge in thinking holistically about rural Canada as we move forward?
  • What "innovative" strategies or policies are being proposed for rural Canada? By whom?
  • Is there a role for a Rural and Cooperatives Secretariat? If so, what is it and can it be achieved with what is left?
But maybe more so, I am lamenting the fact that once again - the relationships and trust built by myself and the many community members that have benefited from the programs of the CRCS are, like most major government shifts - lost in the chaos. When ALL good community economic development approaches are based on this one pre-condition, how much will this major shift cost us collectively?  Thank you to all of those in the CRCS for your work and best to you in these times of uncertainty.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Signage study underway

I saw this post on the BC Rural Network post today:

"HOW DO TOURISTS FIND THEIR WAY IN YOUR COMMUNITY?  Be part of the review of service and attraction signs and way-finding in B.C.  Tourism British Columbia (part of the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation) and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure are conducting a review of the Provincial Service and Attraction Signage Program and tourism-related signage within municipal boundaries. As part of this review, incorporated municipalities will receive an email from NRG Research Group with an invitation to participate in a survey. We encourage each municipality to complete the survey as your input and participation is vital to help inform future directions of tourism service and attraction signage in B.C at both the provincial and local levels. Please watch your email inboxes for more information and a link to the survey during the week of April 10th, 2012. Questions about the project or the survey can be directed to: Amber Crofts, Senior Tourism Development Officer - Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation Phone: 250-356-6976 Ross McLean, Manager Provincial Sign Program - Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure Phone: 250-371-3808".

This is a topic that I have worked on over the past few years after rating it as the most pervasive issue for rural tourism in BC after years of consecutive fieldwork around the province.  In 2006, we decided as part of the TRIP project to develop a manual for communities to enhance their signage and pointed out mechanisms, like doing an audit, to help them improve wayfinding.  This manual, more than any other piece of work of TRIP perhaps, was taken up by communities across the province and beyond. Since then, with partners from UNBC and TRU, we have developed assessment tools to perform community audits of signage. In total, I would estimate that we have done about 15-20 of these ranging from business site signage to islands, small communities and regional routes.

This year, I was asked to work with the MJTI to update the manual and turn it into a Tourism BC manual. I look forward to this happening and to those communities that haven't read our manual or taken advantage of the audit expertise at the Universities and Colleges - you may want to grab it free off the TRIP site at (see resources, manuals).

Monday, March 26, 2012

Preservation or promotion of Saltspring - thoughts on a recent study

In keeping with my theme of late, I am going to share some of my observations on a recent article in the Canadian Geographer and pose some questions that we may want to consider for rural areas with respect to tourism development.
I just finished reading Claire Halpern and Clare Mitchell's article "Can a preservationist ideology halt the process of creative destruction? Evidence from Saltspring Island, BC" which was published in the Canadian Geographer (2011). I found this to be an informative, detailed article on the evolution of the island, which is also an area I am very familiar with (my cousins started Garry Oak Vineyards). The authors describe, using historical and current literature and some supporting interviews, how the island has been transforming as a heritage-scape and pondering its future given some externalities such as provincial tourism plans. Of particular interest, the authors explored to what extent a preservationist ideology exists on the island and its role in the creation and maintenance of the heritage scape.
I am planning to take a group of graduate students on a study tour of the Southern Gulf Islands in October with Dr. Patrick Maher from UNBC where we will focus on developing a series of papers on amenity based rural development. Using this more holistic umbrella, we aim to explore how the island region is balancing the promotion and protection of natural and cultural amenities. We intend to highlight the presence of innovative strategies being used to manage these mandates. I will have the students read this aforementioned article as one of our preparatory pieces as it is one of the few out there that focus on the role of heritage and culture in rural development and preservation.

While I enjoyed the article and encourage its read, I have to, by nature of my role as a researcher - wade in with a few reservations on the methods and findings.

First, the use of a linear model that starts with a new concept and finishes with destruction is problematic for me (see last post for my reservations of these lifecycle model approaches and inevitable decline). In reality, Saltspring and many other rural communities go through a more complex evolutionary cycle in response to the external forces that are present in the day as well as the ideological make up of their "current residents". I say current here because one of the assumptions we make as researchers is that "residents" are a homogeneous group. Research studies have highlighted that residents are in fact very diverse and that while variable such as length of residence, attitudes towards preservation, link to tourism etc have all been used to explore differences - the results are often contradictory in different case study regions. Saltspring Island, like other high amenity rural regions, is exposed to visitors on an ongoing basis, many of whom find the area so attractive that they seek to move there. That these can be called negative impacts of tourism is problematic - in fact, people moving to a new location is a phenomena called amenity migration - not tourism. We need to begin to separate these variables out more clearly in future studies.
Finally, the researchers make some assumptions that the old tourism plan (vs. the more recent tourism strategy - 2011) was about increasing numbers of visitors (as opposed to higher spending). While I agree with the authors findings and have found consistent responses in other rural BC contexts that the goal of doubling was a goal coming from Victoria, not the communities, the goal was not about doubling numbers of tourists (same number spending more arrives at the same outcome). And, to assume that a provincial strategy is likely to influence the destruction of an island's heritage-scape was to me, a bit of a stretch as a potential consequence. Maybe provincial policy documents have a further reaching effect in Ontario, but in BC - I have yet to see this level of impact created. That is not intended as a dig to my colleagues in the Ministry who do important and valuable work, it is just that the realities of the take up of any Ministry on the ground floor of any province is limited in its impact due to the dynamic and grassroots nature of development practice.
For those grad students out there - we have lots of work to do. Here are a few questions I'd pose for further investigation. What does the evolution of amenity based rural development where heritage-scapes exist look like in different case study regions? Which stakeholders are involved in that evolution and what role do they play? What external forces, over time, are responded to at the community level, by whom and with what effect? To what extent do preservationist ideologies maintain over time and through successive additions of new amenity migrants? Do different types of residents preserve or promote natural and cultural amenities over time and to what effect?

Halpern, C., and C.J.A. Mitchell. (2011). Can a preservationist ideology halt the process of creative descruction? Evidence from Salt Spring Island, BC. The Canadian Geographer. 55(2): 208-225.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Debunking old myths and challenging old models

I am often seen as an agitator or contrarian I think, both descriptors that I am happy with. Part of the fun with science is that we have to be open to the notion that what we know today may be total nonsense tomorrow. Today I was thinking of this a bit with some fun jest with colleagues here on one model that I often find limiting in my work (there are others). While all of these models served an important role in advancing our thinking at the time, many are now limiting us when they are applied to policies and management decisions. As researchers find out new information and share it with one another, we need to be open to explore other explanations for the things we see happening around us.

One of my favorite examples - the most often cited model for destination development is Butler's lifecycle model. In essence, Butler proposed that destinations move from a state of exploration to eventual consolidation - and at this point, depending on the actions taken by stakeholders - they could either stagnate and decline or rejuvenate. This model has been widely adopted in academia and is taught to most students in tourism management programs as a way of emphasizing the importance of management decisions.

An example of a well done investigation to expand this model is by Noreen Maree Breakey's Phd from the University of Queensland . Noreen delves into and compiles a number of observations on theories used to explore destination development. Poking holes in all of them, she filtered out the useful elements of them and proposed a new "Multi-Trajectory Model of Tourism Destination Change. Her new model "proposes that the growth pattern of a destination variable may at times be in a state of complete ‘equilibrium’, undergoing gradual positive or negative ‘evolutionary’ change, or within a ‘chaos’ induced ‘punctuation’ causing an immediate, and substantial increase or decrease in growth." She tested her model in different destinations along the Sunshine coast of Australia and found that there is no single pattern to destination development. This work, if picked up and used more broadly (along with other contraries work) has the potential to move us forward and ensure that our management practices are in alignment with research evidence gathered from the field.

My issue with this model and many others (such as the origin, transit and destination description of the tourism system) is the extent that they simplify what is in reality, a much more complex system. I still hear colleagues using Butler's model as the "state of the world" about tourism and have had senior level students question why they would ever want to be part of an industry that will eventually destroy itself!

In rural areas, these models can be limited in their application. Most of the research that has been used to develop macro models have been on well known, major destination or resort areas. Can we assume that a community of 500 in rural BC at the beginning of transitioning to tourism is going to undergo the same process? And what about all of those communities that have been trying to develop tourism for 20 years and are still a long way from being at the development stage. Are we to assume that they all need to embrace for the certainty that the hordes will soon be upon them? And what of those destinations where the people involved in tourism (because there is a lot of burn out and attrition in tourism champions and entrepreneurs) change regularly. Do we not see alternate trajectories emerge from inputs other than the sheer number of visitors that arrive? Oh, there are so many questions.

What is promising is that new young researchers are emerging all the time with different ways of seeing the world, different hunches about what they see and different ways of measuring and explaining phenomena around us. Let's keep our exploration hats on shall we - so we stay involved and don't stagnate and decline in our collective work on sustainable tourism development!

What models do you want to poke holes in?