(Part One of a two-part series – here is Part Two about what rural folks 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.)
Much discussion lately has focused on the split between urban and rural people in the world, particularly in the U.S. We’re hearing a lot about the prejudices and hatred on both sides, as though they were intractable problems. Travel and connection with each other may be one antidote to our divisions.
Many people have heard Mark Twain’s famous “Travel is fatal to narrow-mindedness,” but Sheila dug out the complete quote in her post about how travel is still fatal to narrow-mindedness.
“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.
FOR CITY PEOPLE
For people who are from bigger cities, you can do a lot to be encouraging.
You don’t have to be a tourism professional to do this. Everyone has friends and family who visit. All of us see the occasional post on social media about what there is to do in our area.
This is a chance for you to speak up and encourage them to visit your neighbor small towns.
Learn Your Nearby Small Towns
Recognize that your city is surrounded by small towns. This is the best place to start because it’s close to you. Start learning about them so that you can promote your neighboring small towns to your own locals and your visitors.
I can think of at least three reasons to do this.
One, it’s in your best interest, because travelers are increasingly interested in small towns. There is evidence, for example, that British visitors are making Southern small towns their first destination in the U.S., and Condé Nast‘s Traveler Research Center is cited in a Small Biz Survival article about how changing travel motivations favor small towns. (Be sure to read the post’s comments to catch another quote from Fodor’s Travel about the uprise in interest in small towns.)
Two, this also serves your goal of promoting travel by rural people by introducing more inbound visitors to their towns to help break down barriers. It’s harder to think you hate a certain group if you start meeting people as individuals when they visit your own home town.
Three, it’s also good for city people to get to know rural people. We have more in common and also more differences than I think we realize. But we are all just people.
Connect with Your Neighboring Tourism Professionals
If you’re an urban or suburban tourism professional, you can do more than encourage people to visit small towns. You can reach out and support the tourism professionals in your neighboring small towns.
These folks are stretched thin because they often share destination marketing with other responsibilities, like Chamber of Commerce duties. In my hometown of about 5,000 people, tourism is a duty of the local chamber, and the chamber director is also the half-time economic development director. Remember this reality when you talk to them.
In smaller towns, usually the tourism promotion is done entirely by volunteers. In fact, in most small towns, there are a lot of people who aren’t paid to promote tourism, but they take it on because they care about tourism, they have a tourism-related business, or they know tourism promotes their favorite local cause such as historic preservation. You probably see this same pattern of volunteers in your big city, but in the small towns, it may be the only tourism game going.
What can you offer as support?
Start by listening. You have some common ground and opportunities to help each other. Organize some regional networking and support so you can all learn from each other. Actively find ways to share some of your resources with them.
Remember, those small towns represent an extension of your local attractions.
Once you’re established some trust and relationships with them, you can help them with promoting travel to their locals. You know that people from the surrounding small towns will come to your big town to shop and do business. That’s a natural visitor group for you. Why not make help make those trips more than shopping? Help your nearby small town visitors connect more deeply with groups not like them, through cultural and immersion activities when they come to your city.
Work carefully with the local small town professionals here. You want to approach this with some sensitivity to both the rural people who will do the visiting, and the urban people you’re encouraging them to get to know. It’s an advanced strategy, but has the greatest potential to fulfill the promise of broadening minds.
Include Small Town People at Tourism Industry Events
If you’re a tourism professional, you probably play some role in organizing trainings and conferences for travel and tourism industry events. This gives you an opportunity to offer greater support to rural tourism people.
Even if you just attend these events, you can start suggesting and asking that rural and small town topics be included.
Cover small town topics at every industry event you help organize. At every regular event, training or conference, you can include special speakers and sessions specifically for small town professionals and volunteers. You’ll have to ask them what topics they need most, so that’s another reason to have already built that network with your neighbors.
Then you have to do the work of bringing in those small town people to those events. They’re used to being ignored, so they don’t bother attending most times. If you’ve built strong trust with the tourism people from your surrounding towns, you can start by inviting them.
The next step requires even more trust and connection. Hold special events just for small town professionals. You’ll have the space and time to address rural issues more deeply, and to allow networking from across your state or region.
Since so many small town tourism people are also Chamber of Commerce people, consider co-operating with your state or region’s chamber groups to create combined events specifically for small towns. Check to see if there may be a different pattern in your state. Maybe most small-town tourism is usually a function of the municipal government. Then you would want to partner with the municipal league or the equivalent.
(Thanks for your insights, Becky! Here is Part Two, about how small town tourism folks can help foster more understanding and collaboration.)
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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.
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!