Local tourism equals economic development

In recent years, tourism has proven to be a powerful force for economic development worldwide.

According to the World Tourism Organization, tourism accounts for approximately 10% of global GDP, which equates to one job for every ten jobs worldwide, generating over $1.7 trillion in revenue. These figures highlight the significant economic potential of the tourism industry and its ability to stimulate economic growth, create jobs and promote local and regional development.

Make no mistake; local tourism can significantly impact economic development in small rural communities in America. According to a report by the American Travel Association, tourism generated $1.1 trillion in economic output in 2019, and the industry supports 9.4 million jobs, many of which are located in rural areas. Undoubtedly, local tourism can help drive economic growth, create jobs and increase community resilience.

While the benefits are many, one of the main benefits of local tourism is its ability to generate revenue for local businesses. Visitors who come to rural communities for tourism often spend money on local products and services, such as restaurants, hotels and shops, which can provide a much-needed boost to the local economy.

For example, a study by the University of Minnesota found that the annual economic impact of tourism in Cook County, Minnesota is $131 million, supporting over 2,000 jobs. Although each county and community has different tourism opportunities, this shows the potential of local tourism to create jobs and stimulate economic growth in rural areas.

Local tourism can also help diversify local economies, reducing dependence on a single industry or sector. Many rural communities rely on agriculture or natural resource extraction as their primary economic driver, which can make them vulnerable to fluctuations in commodity prices or environmental disasters. Local tourism can provide an additional source of economic activity, helping to insulate communities from economic shocks. For example, in Fort Bragg, California, the local tourism industry helped support the city’s economy after the nearby military base closed in the 1990s.

In addition to its economic benefits, local tourism can also help promote community pride and cultural heritage. Visitors who come to rural communities for the purpose of tourism often seek unique and authentic experiences that showcase local culture and traditions. This can help promote a sense of community pride and identity and preserve local heritage for future generations. For example, the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque, Iowa, showcases the natural and cultural heritage of the region, attracting over 200,000 visitors annually and contributing to the local economy.

However, the benefits of local tourism will not come automatically. Communities must work to develop and promote their tourism offers. This will require foresight and significant investment in infrastructure, marketing and workforce development. Local tourism can also have negative impacts, including overcrowding, congestion and environmental degradation for these unprepared and poorly managed communities. While local tourism can be a positive game-changer for a community, it must be managed sustainably and responsibly to maximize its economic benefits while minimizing negative social and environmental impacts.

Local tourism can be a powerful force for economic development in small rural communities across America, creating jobs, spurring economic growth and fostering community pride and cultural heritage. However, its benefits are not automatic and require careful planning, investment and management. Communities must work to develop and promote their tourism offerings while ensuring that tourism is managed sustainably and responsibly. In doing so, local tourism can drive inclusive and sustainable economic development, reduce poverty, and achieve sustainable development goals in rural America.

John Newby is a nationally recognized columnist, speaker and publisher. He consults with chambers, communities, business and the media. His column, “Building Main Street, Not Wall Street,” appears in over 60 newspapers and media outlets. As the founder of Truly-Local, he helps chambers, communities, media and businesses create synergies that build vibrant communities. He can be reached at [email protected]

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