As Community and Rural Development agent with Cooperative Extension, my duties cover tourism, local foods and sustainable local economy. I believe that it’s important for people to understand the words and concepts associated with my job in order for me to be fully successful in my position.
Tourism involves traveling to, or staying in, places outside of one’s usual location for leisure, recreation, business or education. In Robeson County traditional tourist events and lodging facilities are critically important to our economy, providing more than 1,000 jobs that result in more than a $17 million annual payroll.
With more than 55,000 vehicles per day traveling through our county on Interstate 95, the most heavily travelled roadway on the East Coast, we are fortunate to host many of those travelers at our lodging and dining establishments. We’re also located in the path of people headed to the Carolina beaches.
When we offer attractions and experiences that entice those folks to spend an extra day here, the economic benefit is profound. Tourism can often involve a flight to an exotic destination, but local tourism occurs when residents of a town or county travel only a small distance to visit an attraction. This is valuable not only because we become more connected to our own region, but also because it is significantly more affordable for families. Keeping our hard-earned money here in our local economy benefits us all.
There are three other types of tourism, which, if developed, have the potential to be highly successful here.
Agri-tourism involves any agriculturally-based operation or activity that brings visitors to a farm or rural property. In our region of North Carolina, this could include picking strawberries at a pick-your-own farm, taking a train ride, enjoying a petting zoo, participating in a how-to lesson on beekeeping, staying at a farm bed and breakfast, or visiting a vineyard for a wine-tasting or a wedding. With the land base and agricultural heritage here, there is great potential in this market.
Cultural tourism involves exploring or experiencing the lifestyle of the people of a region, their history, customs, architecture, art, religion, artifacts and unique aspects of their natural environment that influence their way of life. This includes attending festivals, historical sites, ceremonies, museums, art galleries, theaters and outdoor performances.
Cultural immersion trips involve groups of visitors being hosted by the community they are visiting, and often have a component called service-learning wherein the visitors provide free help on local projects and in turn, enjoy the priceless experience of being a part of the unique culture of the people.
Cultural tourists typically spend substantially more than standard tourists do. This form of tourism is rising in popularity. With the rich cultural diversity, gifted people, festivals, venues, museums and experiences here, the possibilities are untapped.
Eco-tourism involves visiting fragile and relatively undisturbed natural areas for recreation, relaxation and even education. Eco-tourism focuses on socially responsible travel, personal growth and environmental sustainability by fostering nature appreciation and conservation.
This form of tourism intends to have little or no negative impact to the environment and is often very beneficial to rural and/or indigenous communities. By highlighting local culture while providing economic opportunities that don’t harm the environment, the well-being of local residents is improved. A local example of eco-tourism is guided canoe and kayak trips on the Lumber River.
Expanded eco-tourism in Robeson County could include additional activities on the river, nature trails, camping, back-packing, geo-caching, adventure racing, climbing walls, ropes courses and zip lines, orienteering, bird watching, nature photography and even ethical and traditional hunting and fishing workshops and events.
I’ve attempted to provide some clarity about tourism in general, as well as ideas for more tourism-generating businesses and activities here in Robeson County.
For information, contact Tahnea Locklear, Extension Community and Rural Development agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center, at 910-671-3276 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit http://robeson.ces.ncsu.edu.