I’ve said for years that rural tourism is the best economic development driver that a small rural community has.
Now, Twist Marketing, a firm in Alberta, Canada has done market research to prove this point. I ran across the information in a newspaper story, Tourism key to Stony Plain’s Growth in the Spruce Grove Examiner
I’m starting with this news story rather than giving you the link to the research first because it’s important to see how one town is using this research in their tourism development and economic development planning.
Every small town is a cultural destination. Each small town has history and traditions that make it unique that visitors looking for authentic experiences will love.
Your town may have the best church suppers in the world – that’s cultural. You may all show up for the Friday night high school sports event – there’s even been tv shows to tout this. You may have artists and sculptors that work in your community but sell their art elsewhere – that’s an opportunity. You could have crafters that are making a mint on Etsy that nobody in town knows about.
It doesn’t require that you get zillion dollar grants to do murals to become a cultural destination! It takes some recognition of the local culture that you might be so used to that you’re ignoring it! Stony Plain already has a bunch of traditional cultural institutions they’re realizing have great economic development value.
Your little town may need to dig deeper to find your cultural niche.
But in the current tourism climate it’s worth the search. People want “authentic.” Travelers become residents when their tourism experience helps them see themselves as locals.
You’re a small town. You don’t want a zillion more visitors, and you certainly don’t want a million new residents. For most, a dozen or a hundred would be a windfall.
Now go to the study: “So Much For ‘Leave Only Foot Prints, Take Only Memories” The Inextricable Connections Between Travellers, Tourism & Community Development Click the “read more” link to download the pdf of the study.
As you read, you’re going to realize how much you can do without a major change to what you’re already doing.
#1 consideration – cleanliness of public spaces. You can do something about that with a broom and a little windex!!
#2 Quality of life of local residents. This one may take some customer service training since too often that front-line worker is a young person anxious to escape.
#3 & #4 Cost of living and cost of housing. Well duh! Generally both are lower than any nearby urban areas. Make certain that people who work with visitors have information about this.
Look carefully at all the rest. No small town is going to do well in all categories, but you’re not trying to attract millions, as I’ve said.
You are a specialized niche. If your internet connection is lousy, market to luddites – people who want to be off the grid, If you have a few municipal issues – you’re “a big happy dysfunctional family!”
The key here is to be who you are and sell it. The study shows that people are looking for what you have to offer, both as visitors and as new residents.
”Selling it” used to be a challenging, expensive proposition. Now, because of the internet and social media it is not.
I disagree with some of Twist Marketing’s conclusions. They have a very specific definition of arts and culture.
Marci Penner at the Kansas Sampler Foundation in Kansas, USA has a better handle on rural culture. Use her list of Rural Culture Elements to evaluate your town and you’ll easily find your niche. When I visited Marci, she took me on a tour of vintage water towers!
Please, let me know how you use this study. I’m delighted to have discovered it, and want to thank Twist Marketing for freely sharing it.
Yes, I’ve written about this before:
Thanks to VC Hammer for the very funny photo on Flickr which proves you can market anything, even questionable church suppers!