Healing the country through travel and tourism – what rural folks can do

Swimming and relaxing in San Felipe Springs, Moore Park near downtown Del Rio, TX (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

A small town summer afternoon: swimming and relaxing in San Felipe Springs, Moore Park near downtown Del Rio, TX (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

(Part Two of a two-part series – here is Part One, about what urban tourism pros can do – by our “Co-Founder Emeritus ” Becky McCray, who is now focused on speaking and writing about small town business and rural entrepreneurship. She helps you shape a better future for your town. Here are her thoughts in a guest post for us about how travel and tourism can bring urban and rural people together.)

This is a continuation of our discussion about how tourism professionals can bridge the urban/rural divide.

Travel matters, because as Mark Twain said,

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

If our goal is to reduce the divisions between our rural and urban people, let’s start by promoting more travel to meet each other.


Whether you’re a tourism professional or volunteer, or just an average resident, you can do more to encourage mind-broadening travel by your locals.

For professionals, remember that promoting outbound travel by your locals is in your best interest because travelers are more likely to support tourism programs locally. I’m sure you could use more support for your tourism efforts.

Related – Rural tourism challenges and opportunities – 2023 survey results

Did you know travel is part of the humanities? That means you can seek humanities grants to promote some of your travel and tourism projects.

Normalize Being a Traveler

When you’re working at making travel more common among your locals, you want to start by making it normal.

In fact, make it feel odd to not travel.

Believe it or not, what seems to be “normal” is a big driver of people’s behavior.

Bring your travelers out front and center. Help arrange for local travelers to do local presentations and speeches to local groups, organizations, and schools.

Partner up with your other local organizations and groups to bring travel into what they already do.

Some ideas:

  • Do you have a local photography contest, maybe at the county fair? Try to get “travel photography” added as a category.
  • Do you have an art gallery or museum? See if you can start a “Destinations” series of exhibits or activities.
  • Does your town have a role in travel or transportation? Play up past travel ties with your historical society, while connecting to contemporary travel opportunities.

Promote Nearby Travel

Think regionally. Promote travel to your nearby towns. We all have a terrible case of “never been there.” We may live only a few dozen miles from something amazing, but we’ve never been there.

Connect with neighboring towns to add up your related destinations. If you have a winery, and the next town has winery, and the next town after that has a winery, that’s a regional trail.

Look for the regional travel promotion that’s already happening. You may have a regional tourism association, a tourism trail, or a scenic byway that is a natural partner.

[Note – the July 2015 #tourismchat on Twitter was all about successful regional tourism. Here is the chat transcript.]
Heartland Byways conference tours area around Council Bluffs, Iowa

The 2016 Heartland Byways Conference in Council Bluffs, Iowa toured neighboring towns and attractions, like the Hitchcock Nature Center on the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway (photo by Leslie McLellan)

You don’t have to start from scratch to promote travel. Get in touch with local groups that already travel. They are your partners to encourage more outbound travel, especially as you work to promote travel to more diverse locations and trying out different activities. They are also great places to find likely speakers for presentations.

Who are these groups who travel?

Look at youth sports and activities that involve travel to neighboring towns. How about church and faith-based groups? Are they headed to camp or to other local destinations? What about group travel? Maybe your bank, alumni group, senior citizens, or others put together group trips.

Don’t forget your adventure and sporting groups who go hiking, kayaking, camping, RVing, or geocaching. There’s a ready source of travelers to connect with.

Make Big City Trips More Meaningful 

Your locals already go to some big cities to shop and do business. I do. I’m sure you do, too. It’s just part of living in a small town these days. Since that’s already happening, why not make more of it?

Partner with nearby cities that locals already visit, to promote more than just shopping. If you can build a relationship with them, you can get more in-depth. If they’re not receptive, you can still do a lot on your own. Promote cultural activities. Find out about the museums, art, exhibitions, and hands-on activities.

Promote activities that give immersion with groups different than your locals. Food is always a safe place to start, so encourage trying restaurants from different cultures. That’s an easy one in big cities.

Art is a good next step. Look for art exhibitions, performances, story-telling, and cultural centers that offer more of a chance to connect.

When Sheila wrote Travel is Still Fatal to Narrow-Mindedness, she took a moment to reflect on the larger importance of what she does as a traveler and as a supporter of tourism professionals.

“Even if travel is, on the surface, not a world-shaking thing to do, it can have far-reaching results,” she said.

(Thanks for your insights, Becky! Don’t forget to take a look at Part One of Becky’s two-part guest post series – how urban tourism folks can help foster more understanding and collaboration.)

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TACVB Midwinter 2017 conference Waco header graphic

Learn, grow, and connect with fellow tourism pros (and you do NOT have to be from Texas, either.) 

Tourism Currents is a proud member of several tourism associations. They’re all special, but we particularly like how the TACVB (Texas Association of CVBs) supports even the smallest tourism organizations, including DMOs from rural areas, one-person shops, Chambers of Commerce who also handle tourism, etc.

Because it is such a valuable and well-run professional association, there are a growing number of members from states other than Texas, and we expect that trend to continue.

If you are looking for an affordable option to connect with CVBs, share ideas, and work through common challenges, we recommend TACVB’s Midwinter Conference, this year in Waco, TX, January 23-25, 2017.

Register before December 23, 2016 to take advantage of the Early Bird discount.

As proud TACVB Affiliate Members and conference Media Partners, we hope you can join us at the 2017 Midwinter conference next month right in the middle of Texas – Waco.

If you’re a fan of Chip and Joanna Gaines and their Fixer Upper show, then a trip to Waco (and a chance to visit Magnolia Market at the Silos) might be just the ticket to start your 2017!

Commenting area

  1. I love that this is an idea you’re exploring. I also want to throw in that I am still trying to place stories based on a CVB supported trip I did to the Mississippi Delta. It’s slow because it’s hard to sell, but I’m quite determined to convince people that spending time in small town/rural America is an opportunity for (forgive me) truly “authentic” travel experiences. Not only that, I’m grateful, as we transition into this time of a deep divide, that I spent time in Mississippi and earlier in my travels, small town Indiana. It’s much harder for me to dismiss “Red State America” as one homogeneous blob after drinking rhubarb wine in a corn field with the fireflies all around, or listening to live music come from the state of Delta road house. I wish more small town CVBs/Tourism boards would bring in outsiders, too, and set them free to experience what they’ve got. (Pick ME! PICK ME!)

  2. Thanks very much for your thoughts, Pam. Just because we may personally feel more comfortable living in a city, the suburbs, a small town, or the absolute “middle of nowhere,” it doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy a variety of travel experiences in lots of different places.

    And really, how could anyone want to miss rhubarb wine with a side of fireflies?!

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