A Three Pronged Approach for Regional/Community Empowerment
It is important to understand the challenges and opportunities for rural, regional and community economic, social and environmental revitalization in order to develop effective strategies. It is quite apparent that rural places are challenged across the globe. However, immense potential exists for rural regions and communities in the emerging realm of “experiential tourism” and innovation in agriculture, especially "value-added".
But it is important to understand most regions, defined by governmental jurisdictions (e.g. counties), face a significant challenges arising from the coordination of organizational efforts and to realize the full potentials of tourism while maintaining a strong, diverse agricultural economy. This page describes one of our recommended approaches for how to develop tourism while at the same time empowering rural communities and their citizens to expand the economy (especially agricultural). At the same time, careful considerations are made for a holistic approach to protect the environmental, historical and cultural characteristics of the communities and the region.
This process introduced here is the result of 20+ years of research and development. Here we break down the process into three primary “Initiatives” to support a regional approach. Of course no "methodology" is "set in stone" and every effort needs to be adapted to the situation, or context, (see conceptual model "Puzzle - Systems Thinking"). These three Initiatives will best be developed simultaneously and in a harmonious fashion. An introduction to these initiatives are:
Initiative I – Education: In this general document we will call it a Regional/National Tourism, Agricultural and Community Economic Diversification Institute (RTA-ERC)— for tourism and value-added agricultural technical assistance. (The Institute could be sponsorship named after a regional philanthropic organization).
This part of the overall regional initiative provides access to information and technical assistance to communities and citizens with an entrepreneurial focus. Metaphorically, it represents the "Hub on the Wheel". The RTA-ERC Institute will support a holistic economic development strategy focused on tourism, innovation in agriculture and small business development. The Experiential University is providing access to considerable educational materials targeting rural economic development and covers topics at all scales. The RTA-ERC Institute should ultimately be both an institutional (physical location) and a Web based distance learning resource to be accessed from people's homes and through “partner” organizations (e.g. universities, Internet cafes and/or community and school computer centers/classrooms). Additionally the RTA-ERC Institute will provide on-site, hands-on training seminars to local “trainers” to create a network of “tech-transfer associates” throughout your region. It is best to partner with regional universities or colleges to develop educational outreach programs. However, our experience demonstrates that you shouldn't let other institutions slow you down.
Initiative II – Branding/Marketing: One of the critical factors while creating your regional initiative, if your region is focusing on being a tourism destination, is to develop “Your Custom Brand”. Establishing a regional tourism destination brand or brands (national and internationally marketed)– the actual “brand/trademark” is critical, and is developed from the initiative itself - the focus of the brand should highlight the unique experiences, and the quality of life of your region and communities.
Develop the "Your Region's Custom Brand" to be marketed internationally as “Your Brand/Trademark”, as an experiential tourism destination. This introduction, and subsequent expanded topics, are aimed at organizations with a purpose to expand experiential tourism in their region based on an abundance of tourism destinations and attractions, in addition to the existing and developing infrastructure. Based on preliminary assessments and economic indicators, experiential/rural tourism is growing in practically all places and offers a robust and expanding market. “Your Region's Custom Brand” is used to develop the connections between the various attractions, will create the marketing tools and brand, and will provide the travel and tourism services to grow this potential market.
Initiative III – Web Resources and Networking: Creating a Business and Community Network (hereafter "Community Network") is the last part of this three pronged approach. A primary feature of the Community Network is a centralized database driven system for supporting the businesses to market their business, while also providing a "collaborative network" to assist in the exchange of information and cross-pollination of business. This third Initiative is based on a growing phenomena to provide timely and practical information to travelers to your region, and customers that you want to attract. Additionally, however, the other important factor is to assist businesses in your communities gain access to new markets and technology tools to help them grow their businesses. Internet access portals (wireless Internet portals, kiosks) – "Your Region's" Community Network – (the actual name of the network will be developed out of the initiative).
The purpose of the Community Network (see example that was created in Texas TravelerHost Network) is to provide: 1) a complete “package” of answers to questions that traveler’s might have, 2) customized information about the places they are traveling through, and 3) support for rural communities and small businesses to market themselves. For a place like "Your Region", the intent of the Community Network is to help regions and communities be better hosts to visitors and do a better job of “Marketing Your Region”. In addition, the TravelerHost Network can provide dynamic, interesting and timely information to users at locations where it is not practical to have staff to serve people.
To see the genesis of this technology see the following San Antonio news clip "Wireless Internet at DOT Rest Areas. About 10 U.S. states are developing similar projects - this phenomena was begun by the founder of Solomon Source Consulting (see recognition from Texas State Comptroller).