Rural tourism is becoming one of the most lucrative and viable business ideas for small towns and rural areas. But how does one make money in an area that doesn’t support much economic activity?
The very principles of rural tourism are the same things driving its success in small towns across America (and globally).
If rural tourism is just getting its start in your town, you can jump on the bandwagon to bring in additional local tourism options and a stream of revenue. If it hasn’t reached your area yet, you can be the first.
Before we talk about rural tourism as a small town business idea, we will define the term and cover the 8 types of rural tourism.
What is rural tourism?
Rural tourism refers to the practice of creating tourist attractions from segments of rural lifestyles in different areas by allowing tourists to participate in aspects of the rural lifestyle.
You may have seen examples of rural tourism in the form of farms that allow tourists to view or participate in the daily farm work. Farms and orchards that allow you to pick your own fruits and vegetables are another example, as are wineries and food production facilities. But agri-tourism isn’t the only form – sports, adventure, manufacturing, and culture-related tourism are also part of this practice.
Types of rural tourism
Rural tourism or local tourism can occur in any of the following forms:
- Agri-tourism (wineries, pick-your-own farms)
- Hotel and motel stays
- Experience tourism (fishing guides, painting studios)
- Adventure tourism (hot air balloons, ziplines)
- Gastro-tourism (pubs, restaurants, food trucks)
- Sports tourism (local teams, sports history and memorabilia)
- Community tourism (downtown shopping, local festivals)
- Ethno-tourism (ethnic festivals, cultural activities)
Any attraction that brings local or non-local tourists to a rural area would be considered rural tourism. Because it’s such a broad classification, there are many viable options when it comes to starting this type of tourism business. The very nature of this type of tourism means it can be successful in any area, no matter how small or far flung.
The perfect small town business idea
Rural tourism is the perfect small town business idea, and one that will only continue to grow in importance economically. A representative from the USDA’s Cooperative State, Education and Extension Service notes:
“Tourism is becoming increasingly important to the U.S. economy. A conservative estimate from the Federal Reserve Board in Kansas, based on 2000 data, shows that basic travel and tourism industries accounted for 3.6 percent of all U.S. employment. Even more telling, data from the Travel Industry Association of America indicate that 1 out of every 18 people in the U.S. has a job directly resulting from travel expenditures.”
Rural dwellers – those who live in rural areas – may find themselves stunted as entrepreneurs if they’re not involved in agriculture because these types of areas don’t typically support many types of businesses.
Rural tourism can be instrumental in keeping old traditions, styles of art, and processes alive to be passed on to upcoming generations. Attractions like Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee are perfect examples of how hearkening back to roots can be immensely profitable in a rural area.
If you are interested in starting a rural tourism business in your area, start researching what’s already out there to get a sense of what people in your area are supporting and giving their business to.
What’s attracting out-of-towners? What activities are popular with locals? What history in the area isn’t being honored or remembered? These questions can help you determine the best path to take as you start your tourism business.