Considerations for Tourism Planners

 

Susan Guyette

 

 

Regionalism sets the context for effective tourism. Since visitors tend to spend several days and look for a variety of engaging activities and amenities, a connecting perspective on the part of tourism providers is essential. Providing information—before a tourist’s arrival, during the visit and after departure—on how local resources are linked for the vacation experience contributes to a visitor’s comfort level.

 

Through a true partnership, both rural and urban communities in a region realize a gain by providing opportunities for visitors to expand itineraries and spend more time and money. Additionally, linked networks of small-scale businesses have the strongest resilience and adaptability in changing economic times. When regional linkages constitute a journey and are seen as collaboration, a powerful tourism network is formed. A region is one context within which individual businesses may thrive.

 

Unifying for planning purposes assists communities in developing complementary services. Managing tourism according to sustainable criteria becomes easier when tourism seasons are extended with a range of activities and visitation numbers are more evenly distributed.

 

Cultural Tourism

Cultural tourism, such as that found in New Mexico, is a particularly sensitive type of tourism. Culturally diverse communities in rural areas, as well as urban neighborhood communities, are struggling to maintain their traditions and community identity. These communities need real economic benefits to teach and continue their way of life, and this is largely achieved by referrals to specific businesses.

 

The difference between viewing culture as an “attraction” versus maintaining a “way of life” may become a serious cultural rub. Culture is a way of life for traditional communities, not something to be used for profit. Serious tourism issues arise out of this difference in perception. Understanding such sensitivities in rural and culturally diverse communities requires a realization of the wide range of impacts created when groups are considered an “interesting attraction” for referrals.

 

Indigenous communities tend to be concerned about privacy impacts that prevent the practice of culture. Setting clear boundaries about dates for community closure reduces impacts. For example, Taos Pueblo in northern New Mexico, a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site offering tours (www.taospueblo.com), closes its traditional plaza to visitors for one month during the winter to allow for private religious practice.

 

The issues surrounding tourism differ from culture to culture. Rural Hispanic communities tend to be concerned with the problem of exposure to outsiders, who then may want to buy land and “move in,” pushing out traditional agrarian lifestyles.

 

Entrepreneurial Niches

The starting place for understanding a regional tourism system is to assess the offerings, gaps in services and niches for potential development. Does the existing tourism system represent a good balance of services and attractions? Or are services missing, causing visitors to leave at critical points in the day or to leave dissatisfied? If individually owned businesses complement nonprofit and government services, a solid foundation is created for future tourism development.

 

Businesses that complement each other within a region form a strong economic system. An effective planning process asks participants to look at both the economy of the region and their local economy. This analysis identifies the gaps, called business niches. The hub concept for development—or a primary visitor intake point providing referrals to small-scale businesses—encourages local residents to see the niches available for entrepreneurship and to develop small businesses providing services and products.

 

There are two markets to consider in tourism: the internal community and those outside of the community or region. Tourism may bring a large enough supplemental market to a small community to justify basic services such as gas stations, convenience stores, laundromats, grocery stores and clothing stores. Combining external and internal markets therefore can bring increased benefits to the sustainability of a community. Additionally, service-oriented businesses tend to generate the highest multiplier effects from tourism.

 

Frequently, rural communities do not realize what treasures their local culture and local economy are in the visitor’s eye. These are a part of local everyday life. Yet, a satisfying experience to the visitor is the everyday, the authentic. Assistance from outside of the community may be useful in pinpointing these unique local strengths.

 

Agri-tourism

As an example, bed-and-breakfast lodging operations offer potential for the rural farmhouse or empty nest family. Staying with a family gives personal connection to the area, an opportunity for local interpretation and guidance to other links in the tourism network. Farm stays present fascinating experiences for travelers, and hold the potential for generating enough additional income to sustain the farm.

When information about the farm or a “U-Pick-Em” experience is provided, “value-added” is perceived with the lodging experience. Link farm stays, and a fascinating itinerary is created. In Europe, considerable governmental assistance to farm stays has resulted in less farmland lost to development, in addition to a linked referral system. We need similar resources in New Mexico.

 

Creating the Tourism Network

Urban areas are adept at distributing a broad range of information on activities and amenities, linking their offerings. This principle of cooperation realizes the value of choice, since visitors have a broad range of interests. Rather than seeing each business in competition with each other, urban businesses realize the importance of providing enough variety and price ranges to hold visitors for extra days. These are valuable lessons in tourism for rural communities.

Extending length-of-stay is a focal concept in tourism, since visitors staying longer tend to spend more money in a local economy. When the stay is not only longer but also engaging, these visitors will recommend the trip to their friends and relatives. Word-of-mouth is the most effective and the least expensive way to market in the tourism industry.

 

Where are the largest economic benefits? The providers of lodging and food service garner the larger share of tourism dollars. For this reason, moving toward the development of small-scale or appropriate-scale lodging and food service keeps the income from tourism local. Some traditional communities (such as Picuris Pueblo) have made the decision to keep lodging separate from the community (as with the Hotel Santa Fe) to minimize cultural privacy impacts. Tradeoffs concern economic gain versus maximum cultural privacy. Carefully considered, the solution determines the balance between the two, fitting the comfort level of the community.

 

One means of extending visitors’ stays is to provide locally unique lodging and food service. Visitors need to have food service available when hungry. Otherwise they leave a community by mid-day and spend elsewhere on shopping and activities where food service is located—commonly where they lodge. Do rural communities then lose? A great deal, but not entirely, for services lacking locally but present regionally hold the visitor in the region— offering the potential of a pleasant vacation and a repeat visit.

 

For referrals from urban areas to occur effectively, rural communities must first identify their businesses—with detailed information available in a brochure or visitor guide. The principle is basic: visitors must be able to find businesses easily to be a customer. Expenditure levels tend to be planned ahead of the visit, targeting known businesses.

 

Urgent situations exist in NM, where geographic and/or cultural survival depends upon job creation. For example, tourism projects may result in the jobs created by renovation of historic properties, conservation of fragile ecosystems and protection of sacred places. Informed partnerships support sustainable benefits.

 

Sustainable Tourism Development

For rural and traditional communities, economic development cannot be quantified in dollars alone. Paradoxically, the shift that must occur for NM’s traditional communities to benefit in regional tourism is away from the profit motive, and toward the community motive. This does not imply a lack of profits or jobs—only that profit is not the driving factor in tourism at the expense of culture, environment and community cohesion. Small-scale development carries less financial risk. The lower the capital investment needs—and the stronger reliance on “cultural capital” as knowledge of working within the local ecosystem and with cultural skills—the greater resilience the enterprise is likely to have in economic and seasonal fluctuation. Linking regionally for collaboration strengthens the shift.

 

When a development project is envisioned as a hub, connected regionally to a broad range of rural and culturally diverse communities, the economic impacts will be far-reaching. A community’s enterprises will benefit overall from the interest generated by participation, and a broader range of fascinating, handmade or locally grown goods for sale. The notion of full-time, large-enterprise employment in relation to quality-of-life is fast fading, compared to the recognition that small-scale, sustainable development will have resilience and be adaptable to changing economic conditions.

 

Wisdom is the time-tested, community-accumulated and shared-value insightfulness that has maintained a community lifeway over many generations. Knowledge, in contrast, is a specific skill set learned in the immediate timeframe. If not imbedded in cultural values, continuity of the practice is not likely. Bridging the gap between knowledge and wisdom requires understanding the underlying values of a community and traditional ways of assessing current conditions, making decisions, and involving a whole community for moving forward. This is the sustainable development process needed to retain and support traditional NM cultures.

 

Has NM tourism seen its peak? Preserving local, rural cultures is central to broadening visitor experience, the key to repeat visitation. Ironically, if small-scale, sustainable methods are not increased, the very traditions that now draw visitors to New Mexico will be eroded.

 

 

Susan Guyette, Ph.D. is Métis (Micmac Indian and Acadian French) and a planner specializing in New Mexico cultural tourism, cultural centers, museums and native foods for the past 27 years. She is the author of Sustainable Cultural Tourism: Small-Scale Solutions;Planning for Balanced Development: A Guide for Native American and Rural Communities; co-author of Zen Birding: Connect in Nature, and the author of several texts for Native American Studies.www.susanguyette.com

 

 

 

Resources for Community Tourism Development

from the New Mexico Department of Tourism

505.827.7400, www.nmindustrypartners.org

 

Cooperative Advertising Program—A matching funding program for media advertising (under Grants & Contracts)

Clean and Beautiful Grant—Apply for a community clean-up day, purchase materials (under Grants & Contracts)

Visitor Surveys—Data useful for business plans, projecting markets and new product development (Research)

Assets/Library—Press release archives, New Mexico in the news

Download photos—Available for your promotion (partners login at www.newmexico.org)

Link your website to the state tourism website

Add your business to the “Trip Planner”

Calendar—add events

 

On www.newmexico.org, add your tourism business or event by registering under “Add Your Event” or “Partner Login.” This is an important resource in which to include your business so visitors can access it when using “Trip Planner.”

The annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism is an opportunity to receive tourism and marketing-related training. The conference in 2013 is being held May 5-7 at Hotel Albuquerque.

 

 

 

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