Regional Tourism Networks and Social-Environmental Well-being in Rural Coastal Communities

Tourism development can bring economic, social and cultural benefits to rural coastal communities, including employment, skills development and community embeddedness, the preservation of tangible and intangible heritage, the protection of local environments, and a stronger sense of community identity and pride. However, it also comes with challenges and barriers that potential host communities need to address in order to successfully connect local places to global tourism networks. A key challenge for host communities is the ability to build strong social networks to maximize the potential for tourism development which in turn contributes to the social-ecological wellbeing of rural coastal communities.

Using an online survey of tourism operators, we conducted a regional comparison of the Burin Peninsula, Northern Peninsula, and Labrador Straits (as relatively emergent tourism regions), and the Bonne Bay region of Gros Morne National Park (as a relatively established tourism region). We examined local and regional tourism stakeholders’ perceptions of the benefits and challenges of tourism development. We analyzed these perceptions to see what role social network connections play in fostering the development of the industry and innovation of practices. By exploring these issues, this research helps us better understand how tourism development can be pursued to best contribute to the social-environmental well-being of coastal, rural communities.

Our results suggest that tourism-related collaborative relationships are primarily local, and to a lesser extent provincial. These relationships are most often between participants, municipal governments, tourism organizations, and businesses within the province. Despite participants’ familiarity with social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, and blogs, which allow users to reach beyond their local or regional settings, there is less evidence of collaborative relationships that connect local tourism operators to national or international tourism networks.

The study is currently in its final stages, with a series of focus groups being planned in each of the case study regions. These focus groups, scheduled for October 2017, will provide qualitative perspectives to complement and enrich the survey findings already collected, as well as serving a knowledge mobilization role. During these focus groups, the project team will share the results of the survey with stakeholders such as tourism operators, local government representatives, and tourism-related associations, collecting feedback on the primary assets and challenges facing each region’s tourism development as identified in the survey. The focus groups will also encourage discussion and reflection about the role of networks and collaborative approaches to regional tourism development in each region.

 

Principal Investigator:

Dr. Mark C.J. Stoddart, Department of Sociology, Memorial University of Newfoundland

 

Co-investigators:

Gary Catano, Department of Sociology, Memorial University of Newfoundland

Dr. Howard Ramos, Department of Sociology & Social Anthropology, Dalhousie University

Dr. Kelly Vodden, Department of Geography, Memorial University of Newfoundland