Saturday, November 17, 2007

Tourism in Rural Areas

A story I heard recently on NPR got me thinking about the self-preservation efforts of rural communities. In this broadcast, a surfer from New Zealand extolled the virtues of surfing in a remote fishing village in Guatemala. Jed Thynne, the surfer, said that to travel to El Paredon, he must take a bus, a taxi, and a boat. But, he likes it because "there is nobody here." A website about El Paredon surf camp brags about the "exotic black sand beaches" and great waves in a "tranquil fishing village."

The community members hope to attract surfers and others in order to increase their economic livelihoods. The community opened a small surfing camp, complete with "rotting bunk beds," and some of the new jobs include cooking and teaching surf lessons.

The example of El Paredon is certainly an optimistic one for many rural communities. Rural regions can bring work and money into their communities through tourism. Of course, opening a rural community to visitors may be inimical to the tranquility that characterized the rural region in the first place.

Many rural communities are finding ways to attract tourists without compromising their rural identity. In fact, this site, from UC Davis, provides a wonderful variety of resources for those interested in agritourism. Furthemore, agritourism is now part of popular culture, thanks to a recent episode of "The Office," in which Dwight Schrute explains that "agritourism is a lot more than a bed and breakfast. It consists of tourists coming to a farm, showing them around, giving them a bed, giving them breakfast."

While I fully support agritourism and other methods of economic development, I wonder what will become of communities that lack natural resources that are tourist-worthy. El Paredon is fortunate to be located near such great waves, and the fictional Schrute Farms in rural Pennsylvania is located in a lovely wooded setting. But what about other regions that no one wants to visit? How can those residents develop a sustainable livelihood?

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