|January 21, 2000||Volume 7, Number 9|
Study in rural tourism may help communities viability
By Ann Dumonceaux
As Rhonda Koster considers the impact of her research on the role of tourism strategies in creating employment opportunities for youth in rural communities, the second-year PhD student shakes her head and smiles.
"I'd never done anything before that anybody cared about, but now the Minister of Economic and Co-operative Development has sent me a couple of letters, and Tourism Saskatchewan has also approached me to see how they can help."
Koster's work is drawing Canada-wide attention too. She was recently awarded one of only six inaugural CIBC Youthvision Scholarships for post-graduate academic excellence and innovative research in the field of community economic development and youth employment. This national award is worth up to $30,000 over the next two years.
Describing her research as "a look at rural communities that have jumped on the tourism bandwagon," Koster observes that her work has important implications regarding the sustainability of Saskatchewan rural communities.
"There are so many communities who are realizing that they can no longer rely exclusively on agriculture, uranium mines, or forestry. Tourism, on the other hand, is promoted as an easy economic development option, an almost guaranteed success".
For rural communities threatened with a lack of employment opportunities for their youth, tourism may offer a welcome alternative to a bleak future.
"Part of having longevity is in retaining youth," explains Koster. "If they aren't going to take over the farm, the youth leave and rarely come back. But if, for example, the grocery store, service station, insurance agency, etc., can thrive because of other economic developments, at least the youth then have real choice. They won't have to leave to make a life for themselves."
Koster notes that a second good reason for exploring tourism within community development planning is directly related to government's increasing reluctance to fund rural economies.
"We've always had rural development initiatives that tried to boost the rural economy through injections of big sums of money, all top-down initiatives," explains Koster. "But now, both federal and provincial governments have little extra' money, and so they're saying only you know best what your community needs'".
Though she calls it "an abdication of fiscal responsibility", Koster admits that the insistence on community self-sufficiency "makes sense sustainability-wise".
Koster's research, which she expects to begin in the spring under supervisor Jim Randall, will examine which communities are struggling and those that have been successful in incorporating tourism strategies into their economic planning.
"It would be nice to know what will predict success," observes Koster. "What elements do communities need to have in order to successfully utilize tourism, or for that matter, any other development option which they might choose?"
Citing Eastend as an example of a community which has "really taken the community economic development principles to heart", Koster notes it has dedicated itself to exploring tourism strategies in an attempt to foster longevity. "They shut down the community for a day to have a community meeting," relates Koster. "They asked for everyone's input in considering how they were going to develop their tourism options".
Though of particular application to Saskatchewan communities, Koster notes that her interest in the geography of tourism arose from her master's research on the resort cycle in Montego Bay, Jamaica. "I analysed an existing model and applied that research to resorts in the Caribbean."
Describing her decision to study geography as a "lucky accident", Koster admits that she began her education at the University of Regina with the expectation of becoming an English teacher, before a first-year class changed her mind.
"In the first semester, I took a geography course and an English course, and I did equally well. But the geography class had a lot to do with human justice issues and the differences between developing and developed countries, and that was really more up my alley than learning about Elizabethan issues."
Though Koster notes that "the Achilles heel of geography is that people don't know what is that geographers do," she hopes to find work as a university professor following the completion of her studies.
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