Are Rural Tourism and the Internet Small Towns’ Last Best Hope?

by Joanne Steele on October 4, 2017

I’ve recently received questions from two readers that I will answer here in the same post.

The questions are:

1. Why have you largely stopped talking about rural tourism and instead talk about local small business?

Mom & Pop Mercantile logo

A thriving local business. A small town dream.

2. Why are most of you posts about internet marketing?

I am passionate about sustaining vibrant, successful rural communities, whether you live in Nebraska, US or Scotland or India. Having spend more than a dozen years studying how to make that happen I have come to two conclusions:

1. With the decline of resource based jobs in rural areas and the majority of new job opportunities centered in urban areas, there are two things that can save small towns – tourism and the internet.

I have stopped referring specifically to rural tourism in every post because the basis for everything I write is that outside money is essential for most rural communities to continue to exist, and tourism is the main source of that outside money.

Whether it’s a day trip to a nearby farm or stop for a meal and gas, or a longer vacation in an outdoor recreation destination, those visitors bringing outside money to a small town are essential.

That money makes it possible for everyone from the tourism business to the hardware store owner to continue to prosper. Everyone in a small town is part of the rural tourism industry. And with authentic experiences and unique finds the most important attractors, everyone in town needs to be aware of the value and importance of rural tourism.

There was an article in Yahoo News this summer about results of the US Census that shows that population in rural areas has declined to only 16% of the US population.

AP writer, John Raby notes that  “Far-flung rural counties boasting vacation and outdoor recreation also will continue as popular destination points for young couples, retirees and empty nesters.”

2. In the United States, and indeed in many countries trying to sustain their rural population, the internet is a vital, even essential tool.

Rural broadband access is as important now as rural electrification was at the turn of the 20th Century. Then, small towns that got it lived, and those that didn’t died.

Why? If outside money is needed to sustain and grow rural communities, and the major way people are getting the information they need to make travel and lifestyle decisions is the internet, being connected and tech savvy is essential for small towns.

It’s nice to be safe, picturesque, teeming with outdoor recreation with all the wonderful things that make rural living so great. But if nobody knows about it, you’re small town is on the skids.

The internet is the most important marketing tool of our time. And it is made for rural communities. It offers the cheapest most effective form of advertising ever devised. And with a few tools and just a little training, anyone can do it.

That’s why I am an evangelist for internet marketing.

“But,” you say, “We don’t want to become just a one industry town. We want to diversify our economy! We want to attract and nurture young entrepreneurs so our youth can stay home.”

I agree, and internet access makes that all possible.

I personally see the future of rural communities tied up with tourism and the internet. If you don’t have outdoor recreation to market and you have all the other small town amenities urban dwellers are longing for, with the internet you have a chance to attract young tech savvy entrepreneurs.

If you are lucky enough to have nearby outdoor recreation or agritourism attractions, with the internet and a sound internet marketing strategy, you’re going to thrive.

Your thoughts?


Here are several past posts that you might be interested in:

Agritourism: Just Another Way to Say Rural Tourism

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

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Amy Schulz October 15, 2011 at 10:26 am

In addition to supporting families through microbusiness, rural tourism in effect is a transition to developing communities with internet-based business models. We need to bring prospective entrepreneurs to our communities so that they can decide to relocate here. Thank you for the insightful information!


2 Joanne Steele October 18, 2011 at 10:32 am

Thanks Amy. We all need to work very hard to increase broadband access to rural communities to make this happen!


3 Greg Patarini October 8, 2011 at 9:45 am

While tourism can be a nice addition to the rural economy, I still think training people to make a living on the internet is better. While stores/tourism are fine (and needed), the real lifeblood down the road will be teaching rural workers PHP or C# or designing so they can make a good living on the internet. Working as a clerk in a tourism job might pay 9 or 10 an hour, but working as a programmer or project manager online can bring in 15 to 100 an hour. I have already shown this is possible and brought new jobs here paying a lot better than local jobs — and a lot of these jobs will have benefits as well.


4 Joanne Steele October 11, 2011 at 9:10 am

You’re right about the importance of high quality internet jobs to rural areas. But don’t confuse low paying urban tourism jobs with what rural tourism offers. Rural tourism jobs are high quality microbusinesses that support one or two families and provide a few additional jobs for people who aren’t qualified for those high paying internet jobs, and not ready for entrepreneurship.


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