The era of “Everyone Wants to Go to Disneyland” is really over. Tourism surveys show again and again that people are looking for authenticity in a world of cookie cutter destinations. That’s great news for rural communities.
Look at what’s happening in Kansas. They are marketing what they do best – providing curious travelers a truly rural experience in tiny communities throughout their state. They call it Explorer Tourism.
Here’s what I really like about this approach:
Rural Culture Elements
The Kansas Sampler Foundation is helping small communities ( and I mean small – some under 250 residents) look at themselves in a new way by assessing their own “rural culture elements”. Check out the Kansas Sampler web site, and look at the little graphic at the bottom of the page on the right to get a better understanding of these elements.
Explorer Tourism offers an authentic experience of Kansas small towns
Kansas communities are able to participate in a free two-day workshop to learn more about Explorer Tourism and how to become an explorer tourism destination. It’s not about changing who they are. It’s about understanding how to value who they are WITHOUT making any changes… except for slicking the town up a bit and preparing residents for visitors.
Regional Connections are Formed
Rural communities with populations under 10,000 need linkage with other nearby communities to create a total rural experience. We know that for every hour people drive, they expect to be able to be entertained/occupied for half a day. The Kansas Sampler Rural Tourism Classes give people an opportunity to create regional connections for cross marketing and cooperative activities.
Explorer’s Clubs Links Visitors to Towns
Prospective visitors can join the Explorer’s Club to learn about activities and events in small participating communities. I love the idea that an alert went out to Explorer’s Club members to help save a small business in one of the towns, by going and spending $5. For small remote rural communities, most prospective visitors live within a half day’s drive, so helping them to feel connected and empowered is great for the town and good for the visitor.
This program is worth watching and perhaps duplicating! Oh, and don’t be frustrated by the web site. It’s a bit hard to navigate, but the information and inspiration is worth the effort.