The Spooky Truth about Small Town Tourism Development

by Joanne Steele on October 28, 2010


I love Google Alerts! I never know what’s going to show up in my email box each morning. Today, this article caught my attention,  “Columbus, Others a Model for Heritage Tourism.” STOP! WAIT! Don’t let the boring title keep you from digging into this interesting report on some of the highlights of the Alabama-Mississippi USA Rural Tourism Conference.

I read articles every day about rural places all over the world that are selling their souls for some kind of development that is purported to save them from their downward spiral.

Theme type destinations crop up in rural areas at about the same speed as we see the rise in interest in “sustainability”, which makes me wonder if there isn’t a connection here! What are we trying to sustain, if we continue to welcome, even encourage development in rural areas that degrades the true experience of the culture and heritage of the area supposedly being “preserved?”

What is the Answer to Sustaining and Growing Rural Economies?

Check out the solutions reached by John T. Edge, director of the Southern Foodways Association and Vaughn Grisham, director emeritus of the McLean Center for Community Development in the article.

What thrills me is the stress and attention these two men give to the capability of the rural communities in their areas to find the solutions and make them work.

I like the reference to how the town of Colquitt, population 1,869 got started on their project with a budget of $2500 which has now grown to millions! This is the way rural development money should work. Locals start with an great idea that received the funding as needed to be successful.

I HATE it when I see some grantwriter or developer come to town with his or her own idea, which the town is talked into.

Why? For two reasons:

Scale – Making It Fit Your Small Town

By starting with local volunteers, a project grows in the town, not in spite of it.

Anyone who lives in a small town knows it’s like a big dysfunctional family, with members each needing to feel like they run the show. Things shake down over time, and progress is made based on the commitment and tenacity of the local population.

Buy-in By Small Town Locals

Go to Colquitt, Georgia, US’s website and read about Swamp Gravy. They now have an annual event with a cast of over 100 in a town of less than 2000! This project has been embraced by the town from the inside. That’s the source of its strength and success.

So how can you do something like this in your small town?

1. Share your vision with other locals, and build your team.

2. Ask for technical assistance as you need it. Outside help is great and valuable – just remember the power of your local, enthusiastic team.

3. Ask for money (grants) after you are clear how much you need and why you need it. If you try to get money before your idea is jelled, you might end up writing a grant for something that doesn’t resemble your initial vision. Getting money becomes the primary goal, not funding your project.

4. Continue to make it fun. We run on volunteer energy in small towns, and nobody wants to volunteer for something that’s not FUN!

So… why the “Spooky” in my title? To get you to open this thing, of course.

Happy Halloween!!

Photo – Thanks to Plutor on Flickr

1 Francine DiFilippo Kent November 4, 2010 at 2:09 pm

I have been trying to do some research on Rural Tourism Development in
Florida. I have found a few reports but nothing more current than 2005.
Do you know anyone who is involved with such efforts in Florida? It is such a good fit for the central counties that are not on Gulf or Ocean water. I was recently able to get a mention in the magazine Country Business and found it to be a wealth of eye opening information. Thank you in advance for anything you can do to be of assistance.

2 Joanne Steele November 8, 2010 at 7:47 am

I don’t, but I’ll keep my eyes open. Perhaps some of my readers will have some suggestions.

3 Jennifer Brooks October 29, 2010 at 3:09 pm

Thanks for the heads up to some great examples … as I often tell folks … COMMUNITY development = economic development!

Jennifer :)

4 Stephanie Shaver October 28, 2010 at 3:54 pm

I love this article! Many people come to Weed, CA, where I am, with ideas of their own for town without checking in with the locals, which of course, those ideas go no where and that “super enthusiastic person” leaves town. However, we have just recently formed a local group here in Weed, CA, Main St. Pride. This Group involves many organizations that are remodeling Historic Downtown Weed, CA! The project has been underway for the last few months and will continue- new cobblestone sidewalks, benches, trees, lights etc… which was only able to happen because we locals expressed what we wanted, we made it through numerous meetings, set our goals, found the funding, the man power, and got the city of Weed, CA involved… check out our progress on our web site blog!! These blogs we receive from Rural Tourism are very motivating, thank you Joanne!

5 Joanne Steele November 1, 2010 at 8:37 am

Thanks Stephanie, Congrats on all your good work. One of the great by-products of the kind of thing you’re doing in Weed is the community pride that comes both from the hard work and from the results. You go girl!!

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