Is Tourism an Economic Activity to Pursue?

The success of your tourism program depends on strong consensus among residents to pursue tourism development. Seasonal population fluctuations will affect community organizations and services; and therefore, tourism development may alter the lives of many residents. The goals of tourism development need to be integrated with your community goals.

Tourism development will expand the economic base. It can provide new jobs and economic stability. Tourism will also help to diversify your economy not only to industries that directly meet the needs of potential tourists but also in bringing new community services to permanent residents. At the same time, tourism development may create several problems in the county. It is important to have an understanding of challenges and opportunities of tourism development, following overview is intended to provide you with some background:

Tourism in the Economy

Tourism is an Activity

The Challenges of Tourism Development

Tourism Development for Rural Communities

At the start of the new millennium, tourism is firmly established asthe number one industry in many countries and the fastest growing economic sector in terms of foreign exchange earnings and job creation. International tourism is the world's largest export earner and an important factor in the balance of payments of most nations. (1) . In the United States, tourism is the nation's second largest retail industry. In Illinois, total tourism travel expenditures in 1990 were approximately $14 billion. In addition, $2 billion in taxes were generated and another $3.4 billion were realized in payroll receipts. Almost 250,000 people are employed in travel related industry. Projections for the state suggest growth in the tourism industry have flattened over the past few years but the state still retains its position as a tourism leader in the Midwest (2).

Tourism revenues are not evenly distributed across Illinois. Studies show that the Chicago area accounts for the majority (over 70%) of all tourism dollars entering the state, while other large cities in downstate Illinois account for a large percent of the remaining share of the state's tourism income. Much of the disparity in tourism revenues throughout Illinois can be explained by two important facts. First, over 50 percent of all pleasure travel in the United States is oriented toward visiting family and friends; because of this, population centers will always attract the majority of tourists. Second, large cities have the economic base (i.e., infrastructure) with which to effectively absorb tourists' expenditures.

Rural communities considering tourism as part of their economic base face some important and exciting challenges. Not every community is suited for tourism development, nor is tourism appropriate for every community. However, tourism development in a rural community touches almost everyone. From a positive side, tourists tend to purchase products from a variety of sources--- from hotels, motels, Bed and Breakfast Inn's (B&Bs), restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, craft stores, bait shops, and recreational facilities. The jobs tied to these businesses generally do not require extensive training or skills. These businesses may be major employers of high school students and senior citizens.

Tourism also provides the basis upon which communities can renew their pride in heritage and the quality of life; traditional crafts, ethnic cultures, historic rites and celebrations are a few examples of "attractions" which are increasingly popular among tourists. Conversely, tourism tends to be highly seasonal, cause disruptions in community traffic flows and may attract certain elements of society which conflict with the values of the community. The challenge, then, it is to encourage (i.e., develop) those elements which you believe provide the basis for an acceptable level and theme of tourism development while minimizing those aspects which conflict with the values of community life.


Tourism as an Activity

Tourism is traditionally referred to as an industry which comprises attractions, restaurants, accommodations and transportation. However, the tourism industry also includes the local newspaper, grocery stores, card shops, hardware stores and bakeries --essentially all of the stores which make up the economic base of the community. Thus, while the industry often appears to be dominated by giants like Holiday Inn Corporation, Hilton, United Airlines and McDonalds, most tourism industry operators (98%) are small "mom and pop" businesses.

Today, professionals involved in tourism development focus on tourism as an activity engaged in by people who travel. This activity includes everything from those activities dealing with the planning of the trip, travel throughout the trip, actual "visit" to attractions, as well as memories about the trip. This view of tourism as an activity focuses attention on the reasons why people travel, the activities in which they participate and the role of tourism businesses in facilitating this activity.

The most important reason for travel to Illinois is to visit family and friends, according to recent studies (Fesenmaier, D., 1992, 1993) . These studies show that the need to be with people, to give and receive love, is the driving force for much tourism travel. The activity of tourism, then, enables a couple, a family, or even unacquainted groups to create or manipulate settings with which to satisfy this need for companionship. These studies also show that tourism is an activity which enables people to relax, to exercise, to learn about oneself as well as the world we live in and to gain social recognition. The reasons for pleasure travel tend to be mixed and changing. The needs of companionship, exercise and learning might provide the basis for one trip, while social recognition provides the basis for another trip.

Motivation for Travel

Relaxation: Escape, sand and sun, dropping out, tension reduction, exercise

Belonging: Visit family and friends, companionship, searching for roots

Knowledge: Culture, wanderlust, education programs

Status: Ego-enhancement, social recognition, status and prestige

Security: Health, active recreation

Aesthetics: Environment, scenery

From this perspective, the tourism industry becomes the facilitator,the setting for tourists to meet their needs. Tourist attractions such as Disney World, for example, provide the basis for families to be together, for people to identify with "being young," for others to relax and drop out. Other persons might visit for the "excitement" and stimulation of a parade or a ride through Space Mountain. The success of such an attraction is tied to its ability to recognize travelers needs and to provide the settings where their needs can be addressed. In essence, Disney World is an attraction where visitors are encouraged to "create" those experiences which meet their needs.


The Challenge for Tourism Development

Rural America, represented by a unique combination of physical, social and cultural characteristics has been the focus of a number of important studies in recent years. These studies have identified a variety of major events that have adversely effected the economy of rural America. These include the "energy crisis" of the early 1970s, two major recessions, high inflation, the decline in U.S. competitive edge in world markets and large federal and state budget deficits. These events have affected the nation's economy to such an extent that in rural communities agriculture no longer plays the dominant role it did 30 years ago. Studies have shown, however, that rural communities possess a large aggregate of untapped assets which offer substantial opportunity for development.

Travel to rural areas accounts for about one-third of all pleasure trips. The typical rural tourist travels an average 680 miles from home, takes a trip that lasts an average of 4.6 nights, stays with friends or relatives, makes his/her own arrangements, is accompanied by at least one other member of the same household, is married, has at least a high school diploma, owns his/her own home and maintains a full-time job .

Because of the continued increase in the demand for leisure travel in the United States, it is believed that rural America will be a prime beneficiary of this increase in tourism travel. These beliefs, described in Figure 4 are based upon several trends which underlie modern society.

These trends suggest a substantial change in the nature of tourism travel in United States. They show that tourists will support American heritage and culture and increasingly will be willing to "pay the price" for high quality leisure experiences. The tourism industry will change dramatically to provide these personalized experiences and services. These trends focus attentions on the resources of rural communities: culture, values, quality environment and a "friendly" lifestyle.

For rural communities wanting to invest time, energy and money in tourism, the challenges are substantial. But, given the trends in society identified above, appear to offer great opportunity to create a vital and sustainable industry. Community involvement is a basic requirement for a successful tourism program. Planning by business leaders and community leaders is critical to establishing acceptable tourism development strategies. Recognizing that the tourism industry within a community provides for and facilitates tourists' experiences, the second challenge is to identify and evaluate all aspects of the industry within the context of these experiences. The remaining chapters and activities are designed to empower local leaders to make informed and intelligent decision about tourism development.