Rural Development for Tourism: Are you a Gateway to Another Tourism Destination?

by Joanne Steele on October 14, 2010

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Baldwin could be a Gateway City to this!

The question, “Why would someone want to visit MY town?” is asked by every rural community hoping to become a rural area tourism destination. A recent article at MPR News gives an answer with a different twist.

The answer for the town of Baldwin, Minnesota, US, is, “We’re going that way anyway!”

Baldwin sits on the highway halfway between the Twin Cities and Lake Mille Lacs. The MPR article points out that a destination restaurant could be the answer for this rural community.

You all know how I feel about Disneylandizing rural communities to appeal to  visitors. But this might be a perfect solution for a location that is less a town and more a rural bedroom community.

Baldwin points up the serious complexity of stimulating a rural economy through tourism. A “one size fits all” approach often looks to plant development to stimulate a tourism economy, when sometimes that is the worst solution for local residents.

In Baldwin’s case, there is little history, community cohesiveness, or downtown center to support, protect and sustain. Perfect for a big restaurant/lodging/giftshop/gas station/ice cream shop/bakery development on the highway to provide needed dollars for local government.

But if you are a gateway to an existing tourism destination, and you DO have historic values, a defined downtown, businesses needing support, and a desire to  grow and sustain your town for locals, get busy marketing what you already have!

The most popular show on the Food Network is Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives! What small town doesn’t have a candidate for that show. Market it!

What small town doesn’t have a kicky hardware store where you can buy practically anything? Market that!

What small town doesn’t have a comfy little mom and pop lodging? Market that too!

Not everyone will stop in your well-marketed Authentic Gateway City. But the people who will appreciate you the way you are, will.

In this current tourism environment, where authentic experiences trump cutsey cookie cutter plastic travel, it’s YOU people are looking for!

Exploit your gateway status and give those travelers the time of their lives BEFORE they reach their original destination!

Read about how another Gateway City:

Small Town Community Redevelopment: Harnessing Local Energy Like Columbia Falls, MT

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