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Conclusion

Given the recent resurgence of interest in local food systems, the companion compulsion to support local farms, and a tourist demographic seeking authenticity and experiential activities, it is not surprising that farm and food tourism is hitting its stride. However, tourism does not automatically possess the explicit links between the economic, social, cultural, natural and human structures of the region that Oliver and Jenkins (2003) claim are necessary for fully integrated tourism. The case of WNC demonstrates that farm and food tourism can provide an integrated, place-based model of economic development that helps coalesce regional identity while successfully linking rural and urban resources, people and places. The farm and food tourism of WNC has organically developed in such a way that it authentically represents the region’s landscape, products and community values while also protecting natural resources, spurring new enterprises and enhancing the region’s sense of place. Future research in this region could further quantify the impact of tourism in the area and examine whether the economic gains from tourism accrue primarily to the rural or urban sectors.

Because of the endogenous characteristics essential to integrated tourism, the specific successes of WNC will not be exactly replicated in other regions. Future research should examine additional regions where farm and food tourism appears to have potential for linking rural and urban resources, people and places. A collective case study of the farm and food tourism profiles from diverse regions would lead to an even broader understanding of how to develop integrated tourism that links rural and urban sectors. Forging a deeper understanding of tourism’s multi-modal and multi-directional rural-urban connections could then lead to further investigations of the resiliency of these systems to shocks in economic conditions, weather events and tourism trends.

A significant limitation of this (and most other) research is that it depicts a snapshot of a dynamic system. Though the farm and food tourism of WNC is currently integrated, without sufficient maintenance from tourism sector participants and policy-makers things could pivot in a different direction. Success attracts new businesses, some of which may not be as effectively embedded in the community, nor able to gain connection to the networks necessary for integration or to ensure an authentic tourism product. Though the stakeholders embedded in WNC appear to possess the necessary conditions for sustaining and nurturing the sector, maintenance of the integrated farm and food tourism system must keep pace with changes to the region’s land, people and places in order to sustain them.

 
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