University of Guelph research report investigates challenges facing the development of sustainable rural tourism in Ontario
For millions of tourists looking for a getaway from their hectic city lives each year, Ontario’s rural areas offer idyllic settings for rest and relaxation, as well as opportunities to participate in recreational activities, discover historical sites and enjoy some very tasty dishes as well as world class wines and beers.
While the development of the rural tourism industry has allowed these regions to reap the financial rewards of both resource and service-based economies, the road to building sustainable tourism initiatives has been marked with significant barriers.
In a recent OMAFRA-funded research report, a group of University of Guelph experts investigated these barriers and developed a framework to help strengthen and guide current and future initiatives. The model calls for greater support of rural tourism through dynamic leadership, effective governance structures, long-term strategic planning and long-term funding strategies.
According to professor Marion Joppe, one of the report’s researchers, government funding often lasts three years, which is insufficient time to establish a sustainable initiative. Measuring the success of these initiatives is also difficult because of a lack of data specific to rural areas. Furthermore, no Ontario ministry has official ownership over rural tourism, which has caused poor collaboration between ministries.
“There is a question of where rural tourism belongs – under rural affairs or tourism? The answer is all ministries are concerned with tourism in one way or another,” said Joppe. “For example, one of the biggest complaints has been the poor quality of signage in Ontario, which falls under the Ministry of Transportation.”
Discussion of these findings and the resulting framework recently took place at a workshop that united individuals from rural tourism and rural economic development with a panel of international experts. According to Joppe, the workshop allowed attendees to create valuable networks and generate ideas that will foster further growth of the industry.
“We asked people what they gained from the research and what they can implement in their organizations,” she said. “There were some really exciting things that came out of these discussions such as rethinking partnerships. Many organizations don’t have the resources to be sustainable on their own and identifying different avenues to engage in long-term partnerships can help resolve this issue.”
Attendees also emphasized the need for a forum where rural players can network and discuss topics unique to the industry.
“The rural players need something to bring them together. Major tourism conferences mainly deal with urban centres so rural tourism issues get missed and are often misunderstood.”
Although the workshop marked the official end to the OMAFRA project, according to Joppe, it’s really the beginning of a new phase. Now that the report and workshop have created a clearer picture of what is needed to move forward, she stresses that it is crucial to “keep pushing that envelope” to achieve progress.
Dr. Statia Elliot
Dr. Kerry Godfrey
Dr. Marion Joppe
Dr. Tanya MacLaurin
Dr. Mike von Massow
Dr. Emeritus Iain Murray
Dr. Nicole Vaugeois, BC Regional Innovation Chair in Tourism and Sustainable Rural Development. Expert in Sustainable Rural Development
Dr. Thomas Johnson, Professor at the University of Missouri. Expert in Entrepreneurship and Rural Economic Development
Dr. Felicity Kelliher, Co-Founder of RIKON Research Group Ireland. Senior Lecturer at the School of Business, Waterford Institute of Technology. Expert in Small Firm Management and Rural Network Engagement
Ms. Rebecca LeHeup, Executive Director, Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance. Expert in the field of Culinary Tourism