All-Inclusive Resorts Will Not Save Small Towns and Rural Communities

by Joanne Steele on June 17, 2011

Same Same Restaurant Dahab, Egypt

Unlike it’s neighbor to the south, Sharm el Sheikh, Dahab is a Red Sea resort town made up of mostly thriving locally owned businesses.

There is an article in today’s Travel Daily News about the impact of all-inclusive resorts on the rural communities that host them

As I traveled through small towns throughout the West and Midwest this spring, I talked to numerous residents looking for a way to save their rural communities.

“We have so much to offer visitors,” I heard over and over again.

But the answer to attracting those visitors too often involved some kind of “savior from afar” who would come in and build something wonderful that would get those visitors to come.

I heard over and over, “If we could get a grant to build _______, our problems would be solved.” The “thing” they wanted to build was usually some kind of resort that would attract people who otherwise may not have appreciated all the things that they have to offer visitors.

I heard about golf courses and casinos and luxury accommodations.

This Travel Daily News article points up the fallacy of those wishes and hopes.

It talks about the negative impact of all-inclusive resorts on surrounding towns in Greece, detailing what happens when a resort includes so many services, visitors never have to leave.

It shows that a nod toward “sustainability of the area” is left to the resort developer whose primary business responsibility is his own bottom line.

They link to a documentary, “Jamaica For Sale,” which discusses the problems and issues associated with largely unregulated all-inclusive resorts in that country

What about Indian casinos, you might ask?

There are studies, usually paid for by the gaming industry, showing vast benefit to small towns and rural communities from an Indian gaming facility in their area.

This is a very complicated issue, and any small town considering this alternative needs to do intensive research. One balanced study I found “Economic Impacts of Gambling” is part of a larger paper, “Gaming in California.”

After reviewing these and other documents and studies available online, most small towns and rural communities may realize the complexity of negotiating development. They will realize that it is difficult to get results that will help rather than hinder their small town.

How Can You Save Your Small Town

Getting back to my very first quote, “We have so much to offer visitors,” it is clear that most small towns that are looking to tourism to save themselves know that they already have something to offer visitors.

There may be gaps is services, ie, too few restaurants or motels, but there are attractions in these towns.

They have outdoor recreation close by. They have lovely historic buildings and fascinating stories to tell. They have locally owned restaurants, and safe walkable downtowns. They have residents – artists, craftsmen and storytellers – doing interesting things.

In our current Experience Economy, with people looking for Authentic Experiences, there is a market for these types of visitor attractions!

What is missing is the marketing necessary to connect visitors and the places offering the things they are searching for.

And because they are searching largely on the internet, connecting with them is a matter of learning a set of internet marketing skills rather than spending buckets of money on advertising.

That’s what is available here at It’s what Becky McCray is talking about at Small Biz Survival. It’s what’s being taught in classes and trainings through organizations like Arkansas Small Business Technology Development Center and Rural Development Initiatives in Oregon.

Everything you need to save your town already exists within your town. You have the talent, the entrepreneurial spirit, the core of volunteers ready to take action and the attractions.

Look within for your solutions, and ask for the help you need to enhance what you already have, and to do the internet marketing necessary to let the world know about you.

Here are several posts to help you get started:

Rural Business and The New Five P’s of Marketing

Rural Business Marketing – Using the New 5 P’s to Make Money

Rural Business Marketing – Using the New 5 P’s of Marketing Part II


1 Julia McCray June 20, 2011 at 7:46 am

Our county (population 5,000) is doing just as you suggest in this post — marketing our abundant natural assets and public lands as well as small town character and quality of life — we’ve heard the same from economic development consultants over the past ten years or so. But we have identified supporting businesses needed to satisfy the needs and desires of the visitors who are attracted to our assets. The issue in small towns is how to establish enough of those businesses so that we have what the visitor wants and needs. We want them coming back, not going away disappointed.

2 Joanne Steele June 24, 2011 at 9:58 am

Hello Julia, It looks like you have a great deal to offer visitors right now! With rural communities, the key is to continue to get the match correct with visitors who will love you just the way your are. Let vacationers who want “all-inclusive” go to Atlantis! You want visitors who will be delighted with your locally owned restaurants and mom and pop lodging. They’re out there and it’s all in your marketing. One suggestion regarding your website, I don’t see any images of people enjoying your amenities and attractions. Those images are 100 times more valuable than pretty pictures.

Also, check out Becky McCray’s comment, and work for those “solutions from within.” – Joanne

3 Becky McCray June 19, 2011 at 11:44 am

Joanne, I have to chime in on this one. All solutions that stick, come from within. The “big score” rarely happens, and rarely helps.

4 Joanne Steele June 24, 2011 at 10:01 am

Thanks Becky, you’re exactly correct. I spent the weekend in several northern Arizona communities where the “big score” is causing problems for locally owned businesses – deus ex machina is a myth!

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