[Jennifer Brooks writes a terrific blog about rural/urban fringe issues, and I invited her to do a guest post for us. And I am glad I did! -Becky]
Drive, Shop and Be Merry: Tapping Into Rural Tourism & Retail Opportunities at Christmas
By Jennifer Brooks
Even as large retailers are slashing prices and expecting sluggish holiday spending from consumers this year, the Christmas season is a prime opportunity for rural communities and small businesses to make big plays and compete, not necessarily on prices, but on unique experiences, natural beauty, authentic person-to-person interactions, and other distinctive tourism-type offerings.
People, especially those living in larger centres, are drawn to rural areas for precisely the above reasons.
The secret? Day-trips. If your community is located approximately 60 miles from a larger urban centre … ka-ching! There’s your target audience. If your community is not, it may mean a little more work to partner with other communities to create a rural tour, one focused – of course – on local retailers and further supported by things to see and do in the area.
A good friend of mine, in fact, introduced me to this concept after taking part in one such excursion. Her small home-town, like so many others, was facing economic decline and was forced to become creative in effort to survive.
Taking advantage of the holiday season, their solution became ‘Women on Wheels,’ a day-long tour focused on creating a women’s-only rural shopping experience. Partnering with two other small communities, the tour stops at a dozen participating stores – many which offer special discounts, activities (e.g. photos with Santa, complimentary ‘mocktails,’ snacks), live music and more – and incorporates additional seasonal events such as a lighted parade, outdoor street market, and a village festival.
It’s been a huge success.
Again, it’s the unique, authentic experience that makes something like this work … and which rural communities can offer in spades over their urban counterparts.
Not only does this bring much needed dollars into your local economy, it also offers collaborations on other levels … think about advertising, complementary business partnerships, brand building, encouraging entrepreneurial talent, networking, and more. And it isn’t limited to the holiday season, either … a mother-daughter tour for Mother’s Day? Sure! A family-friendly regional summer tour? Why not?!
So … what does your community have to offer? How can you take advantage?
Jennifer Brooks is a small-town shopping aficionado currently working in the field of rural development. She writes about community development, growth, and communication in the rural-urban fringe landscape at The Rurban Fringe blog – www.therurbanfringe.com.