Are You a Rural Tourism Destination? If You Say No, Read On

by Joanne Steele on April 17, 2012

Windom Kansas water tower

Windom, Kansas' tourism attraction: their vintage water tower!

… if you say, “Yes!” this is for you too…

It’s the beginning of the travel season in the Western Hemisphere, so the internet is full of predictions for tourism 2012.

What about your small town? Do you have a tourism season? Does the idea make you laugh?

The fact is that rural tourism is your best hope for re-energizing your rural economy, and if you get busy with your marketing, your visitors will help you succeed.

What rural communities have to offer visitors.

You may not have stunning vistas or high adventure, but you probably have something that is of interest to people who live within driving distance of your town.

You may have a restaurant that’s been open for years, serving something especially interesting – I found a barbecue place in Mountain Home, Arkansas that had the best pie in the south. I heard about it when visiting a neighboring town.

You may have a walkable downtown with some interesting junk and used clothing stores.

You may have an old country store that still welcomes fiddlers to jam on the front porch on Saturday night.

You may have crafters willing to open their doors to visitors.

Like some Kansas, US, small towns, your main claim to fame might be something unusual and unique like a vintage water tower.

The point is that your town is probably preserving a piece of your country’s heritage and culture, and you might not even realize it! You might not know that other people are interested “in that old thing.” But they would be if they knew about it!

The internet gives you a chance to tell your town’s story without spending an arm and a leg to do so. But it isn’t free. It takes a process and it takes time.

Know what you have to showcase

I often come back to the wonderful work of Marci Penner and the Kansas Sampler Foundation. They have created a process that small towns all over Kansas use to uncover and catalog those hidden treasures. Marci calls them Rural Culture Elements, and has set up a system of 8 categories for managing the list.

Think about who might travel to see your town treasures.

Take care not to say “nobody.” Everything has an audience, and the internet gives you a way to broadcast and attract the customers for your treasures.

In Kansas, there is a whole club of people who call themselves Explorers who create quests to visit vintage soda fountains, or old water towers, or chicken fried steak restaurants.

Motorcycle clubs and vintage car clubs are always looking for different and interesting places to visit.

Next, market to those customers via the internet.

Customers for your treasures are looking online for YOU. Are you there? Do you have a quality, well optimized website and some kind of active social media presence? This is the time and process I talked about above. Simple, effective websites are cheap these days – well within the budgets of any small town. And managing an internet marketing program is simple and doable for even the busiest volunteer.

There are numerous posts about internet marketing here at And, my new online training program, will teach you the whole process in simple, doable steps for a ridiculously low price.

Watch what happens in your town!

A good friend of mine, Diane Strachan, has coined the phrase, Stewardship Tourism. It’s about loving a place so much you want to give back to preserve it. Small towns and rural communities are ideal destinations for Stewardship Tourism.

Once people come and experience what you have, they’ll want to help you preserve it. In Turkey, Texas, visitors by the thousands return every year for the Bob Wills festival, and they return for monthly jam sessions. They want Turkey to prosper, because of their dedication to Bob Wills.

Kansas Explorers will drive miles to buy postage stamps at a small town post office to help save it from threatened post office closures.

Nashville music enthusiasts drive out to shop at country stores that support local music groups.

Lastly, ask yourself, how will your town benefit economically from these visitors.

This, perhaps, should be the first question. If you have read my blog regularly, you know that I take frequent road trips and never drive on freeways.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve driven into a small community during regular business hours and find no place open where I can spend a little money. I understand that you business owners have to take time off, and you can’t always afford to have staff to keep the doors open.

But if you are advertising your town’s treasures, it makes sense to be sure somebody in your business community can benefit from the visitors who come to see it!

People will come if you market your treasures. They might be inspired to move to your town because of their visit, and they will do anything they can to help you economically. Be sure you give them every opportunity.

You truly are a rural tourism destination.

Here are several past posts on the subject:

Digital Darwinism and Rural Tourism Business Survival

Rural Tourism: A Viable Rural Industry and A Vital Business Attraction Tool

Rural Area Tourism: A Great Business Attraction Strategy For Small Towns




1 Greg Weinmann April 21, 2012 at 4:20 pm

Could I have the name of the Mountain Home BBQ place with the pies?

2 Joanne Steele April 24, 2012 at 9:06 am

Hello Greg, I have wracked my brain trying to remember the name. I bet Herb Lawrence at ASBTDC in that area will know.

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