What Is This Thing Called Rural Experience Tourism

by Joanne Steele on August 12, 2009

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The Rural Experience

You, a tourism business located in a small town or rural region somewhere in the world, are part of a new discussion in rural tourism labeled, “The Rural Experience”.

“So,” you might ask, “What is this THING that I’m part of that’s called, ‘ Rural Experience’?”

To some it is about escaping from the noise, pressure and crowding of urban areas to open spaces, nature, a slower pace of life, and contact with people living a rural lifestyle.

To others it is about making connections to local foods, crafting, history and heritage and the natural world that they can use to enhance their fast-paced urban lifestyle.

It has become a major reason, along with outdoor recreation and adventure activities why people are traveling in growing numbers to rural areas.

The great thing for those of us who live and work in rural communities, is that we don’t need new development or fancy renovation of our towns to benefit from this trend. People are tired of restaurants, main streets, shopping malls, motels etc. that all look essentially the same. They are coming to small towns for authentic experiences. They want to eat where we eat, shop where we shop and play where we play.

We might need to “clean up a little bit for company,” but rural communities worldwide preserve a way of life that is valued whether it is an indigenous culture in the middle of Asia, or a rural way of life in Siskiyou County, California.

To more effectively share our Rural Experience with visitors, there are a few things we need to learn to do a little better:

1. Work better with other local business owners who serve visitors.  Successful small town tourism is more about collaboration than competition.

Rural communities are webbed with networks of people who work together for schools, service projects, the elderly, and more. To fully capture the Rural Experience Tourism opportunity, businesses serving visitors need to network as well. This network can help to provide better service to visitors and more economic benefit for the member businesses.

2. Recognize what the Kansas Sampler Foundation calls, our “Rural Culture Elements”.

Interestingly, we may need a little help recognizing our own small town assets. The Kansas Sampler Foundation is helping Kansas towns recognize what they have through a process where towns assess their Rural Culture Elements. Kansas Sampler Foundation Founder, Marci Penner is quick to mention that the assessment can be used for much more than promoting rural tourism.  It is about seeing ourselves “with new eyes”. Marci points out on the Kansas Sampler Foundation web site, that no matter how small a town is, it has Elements from at least one of the 8 categories.

3. Learn how to use new technology to showcase your town’s Rural Experience.

With as high as 80% of all prospective visitors researching some aspects of their travel plans online, it is essential that all rural tourism businesses have a cutting edge online presence.

In rural tourism, it’s an online web of small locally owned businesses that together paint a total picture of what a town or region has to offer. This linkage reassures prospective visitors that included in the wonderful Rural Experience that awaits them, are places to eat, sleep, shop, get a cup of coffee and more somewhere close by.

Chambers of commerce can help by offering individual pages to businesses not ready to post and manage their own sites.

During my 12 years of experience working with people in rural communities, the biggest concern I’ve heard expressed is the desire not to have to give up their rural lifestyle in order to attract visitors. Rural Experience Tourism is about preserving and sharing our small town culture and heritage.

What could be better than that!

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