Integrated Rural Tourism
IRT is an alternative approach to tourism, working with communities to develop tourism systems that support rural people and their lifestyles (Comen, 2006). IRT is ‘linked into a normative conceptualisation of sustainability, often invoking that of the WCED’ supporting the promotion of sustainability in tourism, empowering local people and contributing to the sustainability of the wider rural ecosystem (Cawley and Gillmor, 2008, p. 318). The goal of IRT is to optimize the use of resources working to enhance the economic opportunities of rural communities via low impact economic development (Comen, 2006). Accordingly, IRT is small-scale, authentic (reflecting rural life patterns), a link between agriculture and the tourism experience, educational, and reliant on partnerships formed between a community and parties interested in the tourism experience (Comen, 2006). IRT is understood in a variety of ways, according to Oliver and Jenkins (2005), to include:
Institutional integration, as in the integration of agencies into partnerships or other formal semi-permanent structures; economic integration, as in the integration of other economic sectors with tourism, particularly retailing and local industries such as farming; policy integration, as in the integration of tourism with broader national and regional goals for economic growth, diversification and development; and personal integration, as in the integration of tourists into local communities as ‘guests’, such that they occupy the same physical spaces and satisfy their existential and material needs in the same manner as members of the host society. (p. 27)
Seven features are identified as being characteristic of integration in the domain of IRT: an ethos of promoting multidimensional sustainability, the empowerment of local people, endogenous ownership and resource use, complementarity to other economic sectors and activities, an appropriate scale of development, networking among stakeholders and embeddedness in local systems (Cawley and Gillmor, 2008). Central to IRT is local participation and decision-making power. Saxena and Ilbery (2008) put forth that some actors may be more or less integrated into tourism than others and use the example of accommodation providers as being well integrated into the local tourism product. Accordingly, the notion of integrated tourism engages diverse actors and resources into networks of collaboration. The goal of integrated tourism is to stimulate local development, creating new partnerships that have the ability to link previously incongruent activities and/or resources (Oliver and Jenkins, 2005). Coupling local resources can thus lead to economic viability and socio-cultural benefits that may help in sustaining local cultures and traditions (Clark and Chabrel, 2007). One of the goals of integrated tourism is to develop partnerships that may empower communities and facilitate sustainability.