Can Stewardship Tourism Help Rural Communities Survive?

by Joanne Steele on September 6, 2013

Kansas volunteers helping rural businessMarci Penner at the Kansas Sampler Foundation thinks so. Her Kansas Explorers Club visit Kansas communities for fun and at the same time help those small Kansas towns keep their grocery stores open and fix up their local attractions.

Now Diane Strachan of Positive Futures is stepping up with a Stewardship Travel program in San Luis Obispo County, California that could become a blueprint for similar actions anywhere in the world. Here’s the press release announcing the launch of this program: Announcing Stewardship Travel

What makes Stewardship Tourism different from Geotourism or Ecotourism

These differences make Stewardship Tourism important for small rural communities

Geotourism – this term was coined by the National Geographic Society. The idea is to promote more conscious travel with the goal of integrating the principles of ecotourism, heritage tourism and cultural tourism. Geotourists are interested in the value that their travel can bring to a region.

There are dozens of geotourism regions now, with National Geographic sponsored websites and maps. It is a great boon to the regions willing and able to put together the resources and organization to partner with National Geographic. And there is not doubt that these geotourism regions will reap significant benefit from their efforts.

Ecotourism is defined by The International Ecotourism Society as, “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” Ecotourism, by definition, must have rich environmental assets.

Here is a good article that explains in more detail the difference between ecotourism and geotourism.

Use of both terms by a destination is governed by associations that have rules and costs. Ecotourism by The International Ecotourism Society. Geotourism by the National Geographic Society for Sustainable Destinations.

Stewardship Tourism doesn’t have a governing board. Here is Strachan’s definition: “Stewardship Tourism helps visitors make a difference on vacation. It’s about having many opportunities to care, learn, and connect deeper while on vacation.”

Stewardship Tourism Can Help Visitors Connect with Your Small Rural Town

The immense, worldwide popularity of geotourism and ecotourism destinations prove that there is great interest in travel that includes a stewardship component. Visitors are beginning to understand that their travel has impact far beyond the dollars they bring into a community.

What the Kansas Sampler Foundation Explorers Club teaches is that visiting small towns is great travel, and satisfying service combined. They travel to be of service, and their efforts are geotourism at it’s best, although you’ll probably never see a National Geographic Geotourism project encompassing the little Kansas towns they visit and serve.

What San Luis Obispo County is doing is to give regular visitors to their area the chance to include stewardship in every part of their travel. It takes geotourism and ecotourism to the next level. It integrates stewardship and sense of responsibility for local culture and natural resources into trips to the beach and wineries and restaurants – regular visitors become Stewardship Travelers.

How Can Your Rural Town Become a Stewardship Tourism Destination

Volunteer activities your town already puts on are Stewardship Tourism opportunities.

In my town of Dunsmuir, CA, we have an annual Upper Sacramento River Cleanup every September sponsored by the Sacramento River Exchange. This year’s event happens on September 21st. It brings people to town from all over the region.

It is a Stewardship Tourism event with great benefit to our town, our river and the people who participate. Press releases go out regionally. It’s on the River Exchange events calendar and part of their social media.

Stewardship Tourism options should be easy to find and easy to participate in.

San Luis Obispo uses maps, posters, and the internet to connect visitors with their Stewardship Tourism options.

In San Luis Obispo County, beach hotels now provide cleanup bags and gloves for people who want to help in beach cleanup. Businesses partner with non-profit organizations to make it easy for shoppers and diners to include a donation in their purchase.

In Kansas, small towns have learned that if you want help from the Kansas Explorer’s Club, all you need to do is ask and you’ll have folks driving backroads if need be in order to help.

Your small town may never qualify as a geotourism or ecotourism destination but you can become a Stewardship Tourism destination right now by inviting your visitors to “care, learn and give back.”

It can be something as small as inviting them to your town cleanup or church supper to support the local food bank.

It can be as big and organized as a backroads bicycle ride, with proceeds going to benefit your local youth sports programs. As soon as visitors become involved, it’s Stewardship Tourism.

Take a close look at how San Luis Obispo organized a countywide effort with over 70 different stewardship opportunities. This was a huge organizational and educational project overseen by the creator of the Stewardship Tourism concept, Diane Strachan. She’s can be hired for regional consultation.

But, don’t wait for funding to get started.

What is happening in your town that could become a Stewardship Tourism attraction?


1 Jason E Camis September 9, 2013 at 11:46 am

Joanne – One great, relatively new tool that we’ve used and that I’m connected to is called Causetown ( It’s a marketing/promotions company that allows businesses to easily manage cause-marketing events (whether they are one-time or daily). Causetown helps drive sales to businesses by them giving a portion of sales to any charity in the country. Any business can host an event. Nonprofits get involved by rallying supporters to raise money and Cities, Chambers, CVBs, and other businesses associations can use Causetown to launch special city-wide give back campaigns involving multiple businesses. You can see an example at or find stories on their blog at

2 Joanne Steele September 10, 2013 at 11:27 am

Thanks Jason. Another great example showing just how important the Stewardship Tourism sector is becoming.

3 Mike Jaycock September 7, 2013 at 10:01 am

The Haliburton Highlands in Ontario (Haliburton County) each year features a “Hike Haliburton” weekend (3 days.) It is an amazing weekend offering 65 different hiking options, ranging from easy to challenging. Many of the hikes incorporate special activities, e.g. edible wild walk, ghost walk, paddle and hike and more. It is both a draw for local resident but also attracts many visitors from other parts of Ontario.

4 Joanne Steele September 7, 2013 at 11:48 am

Sounds like a great Stewardship Tourism event! Is there a way for people to make donations to your local nonprofits?

5 Barbara Cross September 7, 2013 at 6:35 am

We have river clean up, a lovely park and Botanical Gardens, downtown restoration, a train depot, a Babe Ruth ball park, waterfalls,
many things to clean, enlarge, plant and improve. A good idea!

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