The NET Effect: National Extension Tourism case studies

"The NET Effect" is a publication created by the Extension Foundation for the Cooperative Extension Service. This magazine is an outcome of a partnership of the National Extension Tourism (NET) design team, the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development (NERCRD), and the New Technologies for Ag Extension (NTAE) grant program. This eZine contains eight case studies and six ways to use the publication.


The NET Effect Members of the National Extension Tourism network help raise the bar in sustainable tourism and outdoor recreation



PUBLICATIONS Editorial Staff Kristen Devlin Heather Martin Rose Hayden-Smith

to “The NET Effect,” a publication created by the Extension Foundation for the Cooperative Extension Service. This magazine is an outcome of a partnership of the National Extension Tour - ism (NET) design team, the Northeast Regional Center for Rural

Farm to Stable Agritourism support program from University of Vermont Extension helps build capacity, sustainability for producers. Moving Mountains West Virginia University Extension

6 Ways to Use this Publication 4


Design & Production Heather Martin

Development (NERCRD), and the New Technologies for Ag Extension (NTAE) grant program. The NET design team, in collaboration with the NERCRD, was one of more than 20 teams awarded a 2022 NTAE grant, which gave NET critical funding and support to scale up the network’s activities. The NTAE program is made possible by funding from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, through a part - nership with Oklahoma State University and the Extension Foundation. The NET-

Copyright © Extension Foundation Creative Commons Attribution-Non- Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 Interna- tional (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0). Published by Extension Foundation. Citations for this publication may be made using the following: Kansas City: Extension Foundation (2022). The NET Effect: Extension professionals help raise the bar in outdoor tourism and recreation indus- try (1st ed). ISBN: 978-1-955687- 22-5 This work, ISBN 978-1-955687-22- 5, is supported by New Technolo- gies for Agriculture Extension grant no. 2020-41595-30123 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Support System The National Extension Tourism network (NET) helps build local economies through sustainable tourism, agritourism, and outdoor

recreation. 6

leans on partnerships to make meaningful differences in rural tourism.


What’s in STOR? Tour guides, communities level up with Oregon Sea Grant program. 10

Delicate Balance University of Georgia Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s coastal tourism program promotes economic resilience and environmental sustainability. Natural Beauty South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium shores up support for sustainable tourism.

NTAE project built on a longstanding partnership between NET and NERCRD, which provided leadership for this project. Dr. Lisa Chase, University of Vermont Extension natural resources specialist and director of the Vermont Tourism Research Center, was the project’s fellow. Dr. Scott Reed, emeritus vice provost for university outreach and engagement at Oregon State University, was the project’s catalyst, providing mentorship and guidance and connecting team members to the Extension Foundation’s exper - tise, which includes professional writing, design, digital engage - ment and marketing, and evaluation. The foundation’s publishing and evaluation team chose to feature the NET project in its new NTAE publication model, which will inform the content and look of future project publications. We are excited to present our work in this new format and we hope Cooperative Extension readers find this magazine informa - tive and inspirational.

The Way They See: FIT Michigan State University Extension visitor experience assessment helps small towns look at themselves through fresh eyes. Value, Propositions Extension team at University of Minnesota Tourism Center measures economic impact of and opportu- nities for destinations, events, and other community assets.




Website Contact Bryan Cave LLP One Kansas City Place

Popularity Problems

1200 Main Street, Suite 3800 Kansas City, MO 64105-2122


Utah State University Extension web hub helps small tourist towns handle big tourism challenges. 50

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Our library never closes.

1. Network. Like what you see? Connect with NET on LinkedIn or join the NET mailing list to receive periodic news and announcements from NET community members. 2. Collaborate. See a program you’d like to replicate in your community? Connect with NET members to learn more. 3. Dig Deeper. Visit the links featured throughout to learn more about the people, places, and programs featured here.

4. Be inspired. Relatively few Extension and Sea Grant professionals have a dedicated tourism focus, but a few who do are featured here. Imagine the possibilities if there were more. 5. Advocate. Show this publication to your Extension Director and talk about ways in which tourism and outdoor recreation programming can be leveraged in your state. 6. Share. Share this publication with community partners and potential funders. Programs like this rely on the support of stakeholders.

Check out the Extension Foundation virtual bookshelf for the latest Extension research and program development across the country.

Connect with us on the NET website.

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Support System


The National Extension Tourism network (NET) helps build local economies through sustainable tourism, agritourism, and outdoor recreation

s a trusted source of research-based information, Cooperative Extension professionals have been providing tourism-related education and programming to support informed community decision-making for more than 50 years. At the forefront of this work is the National Extension Tourism Network (NET), which engages hundreds of professionals from the Extension and Sea Grant systems, as well as from government, chambers of commerce, destination marketing organizations, and nonprofits. This publication showcases a selection of success stories from the field and shines a light on the people doing innovative work that makes in impact in their communities. Their examples show what’s possible when states commit resources for staff development and expansion to address opportunities in tourism and community economic development.

Photo courtesty of Verdant View Farm in Pennsylvania u

I n 1993, a group of Extension and Sea Grant professionals formed the National Exten - sion Tourism (NET) design team, with a mission to integrate research, education, and outreach within Cooperative Extension and Sea Grant to support sustainable tourism, contrib - uting to the long-term economic development, environmental stewardship, and socio-cultural well-being of communities and regions. Since then, this volunteer organization has provided leadership to Extension tourism work across the United States and has become the leading networking and resource-sharing platform for Extension and Sea Grant professionals in tour - ism-related programming. The NTAE Boost As a participant in the 2022 New Technologies for Agricultural Extension (NTAE) accelerator program, the NET design team received funding and technical support for organizational growth and to expand the reach of Extension program - ming and research on tourism and recreation. Outcomes of the 18-month project included: • a publication series about how Extension tourism programming can elevate other program areas • an outreach program, which sent NET ambassadors to five national conferences to engage with new audiences • publication of the first NET Conference proceedings • formation of a NET committee on diversi - ty, equity, inclusion, and access • an organizational growth plan • a redesigned logo and new marketing ma - terials, including a traveling display What’s Possible The tourism and outdoor recreation programming that NET members engage in supports multiple community development goals, such as economic and workforce development; health equity; climate

Engagement NET collaborates with land grant university faculty and students as well as community members and partners to set priorities and solve problems.

Inventory NET is documenting and assessing Extension and Sea Grant tourism programs.

Professional Development & Networking NET provides knowledge- and re- searched-based educational opportunities to Extension, Sea Grant, and other stakeholders (e.g. land owners, public officials, industry leaders). Sharing NET offers applied research, special programs, and other tourism develop- ment/outdoor recreation expertise to key stakeholder and audiences.

Tourism and recreation, including agritourism, community (or rural) tourism, and coastal tourism, make up a rapidly growing segment of the economy and offer rural and urban communities of all sizes an important strategy for growing their economies and building economic resilience. Howev- er, these opportunities often come with serious challenges, ranging from workforce issues to managing environmen- tal impacts at popular destinations. Local leaders and policy makers need unbiased information and objective data about their local economies in order to make sound decisions about tourism management, planning, and policy issues. The Cooperative Extension System is a trusted source of this information and a natural partner in community- driven tourism and recreation projects. Why Tourism?

to U.S. economy (2019) Tourism Contribution

change adaptation and resiliency; and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Despite the effects this work has, there are relatively few Extension and Sea Grant staff with dedicated tourism-related respon - sibilities. In a survey NET conducted to assess tourism-related programming nationally, they found that almost all of the 49 states that respond - ed reported needing additional capacity to develop and/or deliver tourism-related Extension pro - grams. The programs highlighted in this publica - tion— from Oregon State University, University of Georgia, Michigan State University, South Caroli - na Sea Grant Consortium, West Virginia Universi - ty, Utah State University, University of Minnesota, and University of Vermont—are models of what can happen when Extension teams have the re - sources to help their communities develop sustain - able tourism practices.

2.1% of GDP

$459.8 billion

U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis

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What’s in STOR? Tour guides, communities level up with Oregon Sea Grant certification and training programs Q & A Miles Phillips

Describe the GORP training program. The GORP program fills a need for training not provided by existing training and certification programs in United States. It is a course applica - ble to any guide but with an emphasis on those that provide outdoor recreation experiences. A key element in that is provides awareness and knowledge of industry best practices and avenues for further business skills development. GORP is a short course that is intended to used with other skill-specific live training. GORP is a short online training that does not intend to turn novice guides into experts

organizations, businesses, farmers, and ranchers to help them achieve their goals related to successful sustainable tourism. In 2018, in response to stake - holder needs, four new training programs were creat - ed. Hundreds of tourism industry professionals and interested stakeholders have completed trainings. In this Q&A, Phillips talks about the inspiration for and the purpose and impact these training programs: • Guide and Outfitter Recognized Professional (GORP) certification courses • Oregon’s Marine Reserve Area training • “Know Your Community” course • “Practical Customer Service” course

T he Oregon Sea Grant Sus - Miles Phillips, associate professor of sustainable tourism at OSU, works with communities, tainable Coastal Tourism and Outdoor Recreation (STOR) training programs are raising the level of professionalism in the tourism industry and en - hancing the economic vitality of the regions STOR serves.

Associate Professor, Sustainable Tourism Oregon State University

These courses help guides become better tourism professionals. A charter fishing guide wouldn’t

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professionally guided tours is a huge benefit, and it gives communities an incentive to help sustain and grow the GORP guides’ operations. What are the benefits of professionally guided tours and excursions? When visitors have a memorable, meaningful experience on a tour, they tell other people about it, which brings more business to that guide or tour operator. This brings more awareness of and potentially more revenue to the community where the guide operates. Also, popular destinations like Oregon’s coast can draw so many visitors that local communities can feel overwhelmed if they don’t know how to manage and leverage the tourist traffic. Our guides design and lead tours and excursions that take environmental and social concerns into consideration.

STOR-certified or trained tourism industry professionals 200+

guided adventure travel, including special topics like wilderness medicine and first aid, customer service and group management, natural and cul - tural history interpretation, and sustainability.

What kinds of partnerships should professional guides to develop?

come to us to learn how to operate a boat or how to fish. They’d come to us to learn how to deliver better service, to learn more about best practices in things like marketing and promo - tion, and to understand how to operate their business more effectively. For example, they might learn skills like how to talk to guests about the wildlife in and the history of the envi - ronment where they’re fishing. Another lesson might cover how to give guests the kind of unique experience that makes the guests want to refer the guide’s tours to other people. The programs also help us contribute to the eco - nomic development of communities in Oregon and other states—because professionally managed tourism activities are more sustainable, which leads to greater long-term economic impact. Why did you create GORP courses? We wanted to raise expectations in the tour busi - ness, because we’ve all had underwhelming guided experiences—like when the person leading the group sounds like they’re tired of their own speech

Economic impact of tourism in Oregon

A lot of guides don’t take advantage of all of the resources available to them. We help them under - stand how groups like destination management organizations, convention and visitors bureaus, and chambers of commerce can help them grow and promote their services. We also make sure that participants are aware of groups such as nat - ural resource management agencies that will keep them up to date on things like environmental reg - ulations or projects (like an estuary restoration) that could affect their operations. What’s next? We are developing a webinar series and case study video interviews with professional guides and related stakeholders to help share and grow their success. The GORP program has expanded and the core courses (Global and National) are open to any guide in the country. We’ve also gotten re - quests from more states for Local course content. (See “The World According to GORP” for course descriptions.)

When visitors have a memorable, meaningful experience on a tour, they tell other people about it, which brings more business to that guide or tour operator.


—Miles Phillips

or when the goal seems to be to “guide” you to the gift shop. In Oregon alone, there are over 1,400 licensed guides and many more tourism-related staff. But before GORP, there was no formal train - ing program for people in the industry. Our pro - gram was designed not only to train guides, it was designed to give them more visibility and credi - bility. If you book a tour with a GORP guide, you know you’re going to have a rich experience that you couldn’t create on your own. We also wanted to boost the tourism economies in the communities where GORP guides work. Being able to promote

How did you decide what to cover in the training programs?

We consulted professionals across the indus - try—including veteran guides and outfitters, educators, and tourism marketing organizations. I researched guide training and certification programs across the U.S. and the world and then tested various methods in the field. And we always get input from participants about how we can im - prove. We also aligned our program with Adven - ture Travel Trade Association best practices for

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The world according to GORP (and other STOR programs)

and environmental agencies, and natural features. It’s useful for any guide or outfitter anywhere in the country.

State & Local GORP The state and local courses are for guides in the coast- al areas of Oregon, South Carolina, and Wisconsin and for guides on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. • The state course covers statewide symbols (such as for the state tree, state fish, etc.), economics, tourism and environmental agencies, and natural features. • In the local course, guides learn to identify the plants and animals in the regions where they work. They also learn more about the history of their region and become familiar with environmental agencies and travel and tourism organizations in their communities that can help them enhance their work. Oregon’s Marine Reserve Area Training This series of six online courses covers Oregon’s system of marine reserves—from how they function to what habitats and organisms they host. Participants also can take courses about each of the five reserves. “Know Your Community” This online course is for tourism industry professionals who work along the Oregon South Coast. It provides an overview of restaurants, lodging, and other ame- nities as well as local tours and guided excursions. It’s also a primer on the economic impact of tourism on the coast. It’s organized into four modules, each of which covers a group of three to five communities. “Practical Customer Service” In this online course, participants learn how to interact effectively with customers and how to create a positive work environment. It includes a module on tsunami safety.

Guide and Outfitter Recognized Professional (GORP)

This series of online courses gives guides and outfitters a deeper understanding of their industry and the re- gions where they operate—it also gives them strategies and resources for enhancing and promoting their busi- nesses. Guides can take just some of these courses, but certification requires them to complete all four. Guides with a lot of experience get credit for what they bring to the table and can move on from a section as soon as they can pass that section’s quiz with a perfect score. But they also can keep taking a quiz until they get all of the answers right. We designed it this way so that all participants demonstrate that they know the same content. Global GORP This business course covers universal topics like group management, customer service, interpretative pre- sentations, and more and is applicable to any guide anywhere in the world. National GORP This course covers national symbols (such as for the national bird (bald eagle), etc.), economics, tourism

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The way they see: p Marine City, Michigan, is one of many towns that have benefited from Michigan State University’s FIT assessment. FIT Michigan State University Extension visitor experience assessment helps small towns look at themselves through fresh eyes

p Langsburg, Michigan, established an outdoor seating zoning ordinance based on FIT suggestions—serendipitously, just before the COVID-19 pandemic began. u

ourism is a major part of the Michigan economy, accounting for 6% of all jobs and $24.6 billion in revenue (from visitor spending). In the state’s rural communities, in particular, tourism can bring much-need - ed income and economic diversification, but many rural areas aren’t aware of how visitors perceive them and may be overlooking assets that could attract tourists. Michigan State University’s First Impres - sions Tourism (FIT) assessment is making a difference in the tourism industry one small town at a time, through outsiders’ evaluations of what these towns have to offer to visitors and residents and through recommendations for what communities can do to improve their image. In this Q&A, FIT creator and MSU’s Community Vitality and Sustain - able Tourism Educator Andrew Northrop talks about how FIT helps communities learn about their strengths and weaknesses through the eyes of rst-time visitors. It empowers leaders and stakeholders to develop an action plan to improve their communities based on new perspectives and suggestions from these visitors. These action plans ultimately strengthen the quality of life for residents and visitors.

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This program highlighted recreational assets we didn’t realize we had. —FIT Participant “

Q & A Andrew Northrop Community Vitality and Sustainable Tourism Educator Michigan State University

FIT’s Working! FIT’s objectives are to increase awareness of community assets among community leaders, increase knowledge of how to maximize those assets, increase community collaboration by sharing FIT assessment results, and encourage community members to take on leadership roles to implement community change. Our survey results* indicate that we’re meeting our goals.

How does FIT work? Our five-member assessment teams go into communities for approximately 24 hours. They’re invited by a community leadership team of pub - lic- and private-sector representatives, but they arrive unannounced and then spend a significant portion of their time incognito, visiting a wide range of amenities (such as restaurants and retail shops) and cultural, agricultural, and ecological assets (such as museums, wineries, and natural areas). They also generally explore the town and areas outside of what the host community might consider “theirs.” This helps communities see that assets can belong to more than one commu - nity or county, which improves their awareness and understanding of regionalism and the im - portance of collaboration. The FIT team uses a comprehensive assessment tool to take notes and capture their first impressions about what they experience as first-time visitors; then they write a report about the community’s strengths and op - portunities and present those findings at a forum hosted by the community. Why did you launch FIT? Early in my Extension career, I saw a need to help rural communities recover from the 2008 economic crash, which had decimated many of them. At the time, many communities were mostly dependent on manufacturing and didn’t see tourism as a viable, complementary solution to their economic struggles. I had years of expe - rience living and working abroad in sustainable tourism development, and I knew that Michigan

Strongly agreed or agreed that they envision using FIT data to advance their community

Strongly agreed or agreed that FIT will help

Strongly agreed or agreed that FIT increased awareness of community assets

Strongly agreed or agreed that FIT maximized their knowedge of how to maximize assets

strengthen community collaboration

*73 of 318 Michigan FIT participants in 2021 and 2022 completed the survey.

p Marine City, Michigan, established a business loop district based on FIT’s suggestions and funding from a local economic development organization.

FIT assessment as important—and then return next time because they had a positive, memorable experience—is success to me! I enjoy helping communities identify, preserve, and create unique experiences based on what they have. FIT does just that. It highlights exist - ing assets so that communities don’t feel pressure to install a water park or a roller coaster, per se, and instead, capitalize on what they already have. This is true sustainable tourism development, but it’s not always well understood at the community level. FIT offers a baseline that communities can start with and expand from.

Is FIT an original idea? Yes and no. FIT is essentially the product of how Extension teams build on what colleagues in other states have tried with or without success. I adapted it from a “First Impressions” model deployed in West Virginia through a multi-state grant from the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development in 2015. The grant helped lay the foundation of what I then modified, developed, and rebranded as MSU Extension’s FIT program to meet the needs of our communities. We are the only state and Exten - sion service that call this first-time visitor assess -

communities could benefit from different per - spectives and ideas from a wide range of visitors. I specifically wanted to help towns move beyond “placemaking,” a popular revitalization strategy at the time, and learn to recognize and embrace things they already had that could help them (re) grow their small-town visitor and tourism econo - mies. I am thrilled by the idea of helping small towns see themselves through an outsider’s eye as a way to help them be as unique as possible. The idea that a passer-through would stop in a community based on something we’ve identified through the

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ment “FIT.” The approach to branding and strong focus that FIT has on small-town tourism development has generated ongoing demand for the program and solidified partnerships across Michigan, as well as spawned inter - est from multiple Extension services and, more recently, developing countries, to adopt the program or facets of it. Many recreation sites were mentioned that I was unaware of, and I moved here in 1973! —FIT Participant “

worked once with a small town where some residents were skeptical that many outsiders stopped there, until we showed them a Michigan Department of Transportation traffic report. The report showed that 4,000 cars drove through the downtown on a Saturday in the summer. I said, “If you give just 10% of the people driving through your community a reason to stop, think of what it could do for your downtown and surround - ing area.”

University Global Scholar in Exten - sion. The Global Scholars program, administered by the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), supports established and early-mid career faculty members with seed funding and travel support for two years to strengthen and ex - pand their global linkages, networks, and collaborative programs. I have already spearheaded relationships with tourism officials and academics in Costa Rica, Nepal, Thailand, and Vietnam. What lesson have you learned that could help Extension pro- fessionals and universities that want to launch a FIT initiative? You need to be intentionally inclu -

Getting FIT

2021 FIT Success Report

p A FIT report encouraged the city of Allegan, Michigan, to promote and encourage public art.

The Michigan State University’s FIT team had completed 18 assessments by the summer of 2022 and as of December, was on track to complete two more by the end of the year. Small Michigan towns such as St. Clair, Dundee, and Cassopolis have received insights into such things as what visitors thought of the food and lodging options, how safe the visitors felt, which attractions were most (or least) interesting or accessible, and even how easy it was to find helpful infor- mation about the town online. FIT reports have inspired communities to • redesign or expand municipal websites to make them more useful to visitors and residents; • apply for thousands of dollars in grants for community projects; • create new amenities like a farmer’s market, a park, and an historical walking trail; • make themselves more pedestrian friendly; • reshape long-term development plans; and • diversify the membership of their business development groups.

We helped another town understand that it had potential to leverage its annual world-class canoe race as not just an event but also as a way to strengthen their com - munity’s identity and attractiveness to visitors. A majority of the race’s history is housed in their local museum, unavailable and unknown to the many tourists who visit this outdoor recreation mecca in central Michigan. We emphasized to them that even though the event attracts canoe racers from all over the world, few visitors are likely to know the significance of the race and its long history in the community or state. Our suggestion was to weave that canoe race event history narrative into their community’s brand - ing, image, and year-round tourism industry. How will you expand FIT? FIT’s potential isn’t limited to US communities. With extensive international development experi - ence, I have had eyes on taking FIT to developing countries with similar needs in sustainable tour - ism. It’s a vision I will soon be able to carry out, having recently been selected as a Michigan State

sive by including not only local government and business-centered organizations, but also inviting destination marketing organizations, other com - munity organizations, and, equally important, representatives of youth and under-served audi - ences; having a well rounded representation of the community is essential for success.

How do communities usually react to their FIT results?

Some of our findings surprise them with ideas previously not considered; others confirm what a community has suspected about itself but hasn’t had evidence to prove. Some communities are convinced they know what we are going to find and say, but after hearing our results many are pleasantly surprised, or even shocked. Many FIT towns have made significant changes based on what they learn from our assessments. (See “Getting Fit.” u ) Give examples of surprising FIT findings. Towns are often surprised to find out that people visit other communities to do things besides traditional tour - ist activities. They may go to a church or a grocery store in another town; they might stop for gas in a small town while they’re on a road trip; a town might have a park or event that draws visitors from outside the community. We

Listen Up! Our podcast, “MI Community Minutes,” addresses issues facing Michigan communities and what some local govern- ments are doing to address them.

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Extension team at University of Minnesota Tourism Center measures economic impact of and opportunities for destinations, events, and other community assets E stablished in 1987, the University of Minnesota Tourism Center is one of the oldest tourism-

Q & A Xinyi Qian Director University of Minnesota

have used what they learned to add components to their events or to overhaul existing compo - nents. After taking the event management course, one attendee decided to relaunch a festival that had gone dormant in his community. We have presented many times at the Minnesota Festival and Event Association conference and have participated in the Minnesota Resort and Campground Association conference, the Explore Minnesota Tourism conference, and the Minneso - ta Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus education summit. Community members often

Tourism Center

Describe the Center’s main focus areas and their benefits. We conduct tourism- and visitor- related research, create and deliver educational programs to other tourism professionals, present at community gatherings and industry conferences, and support university students.

focused groups in Cooperative Exten - sion. It was created to help strength - en the state’s tourism economy, and today Minnesota’s $16 billion tour - ism industry relies on research and education from the Center to under - stand, manage, and grow Minneso - ta’s tourism and travel assets. From visitor profiles to economic impact and outdoor recreation studies, the data and analysis the Center provides help guide local decision-making, in - form policy and marketing strategies, and strengthen the economy through tourism. In this Q&A, Center Director Xinyi Qian talks about the work that the Center does and the impact it has had on the state’s tourism market.

come to us with questions about a wide range of topics—from the value of welcome centers to the impact of aquatic invasive species to the future of electric vehicle charging stations. Sometimes we have the answers, and sometimes we connect them with another university or state resource.

Through our research, we have assessed the economic impact of the Minnesota Zoo , examined the state of sustainable tourism in various Minnesota communi - ties, and looked at how COVID-19 affects telecommuting now and how it might affect it in

Students from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, the College of Food, Ag -

the future. The Center’s research informs local decisions (e.g., may - be a community decides to finish paving the last stretch of a trail), drives marketing strategies (e.g., perhaps an event starts targeting a niche market), and helps tour - ism businesses and communities address their priority issues. (See the following page for samples of specific research findings.) Our education and training pro - grams provide hands-on informa - tion that participants can use in their work. For example, partic - ipants in our festival and event management online program


p A bike path in Hastings, Minnesota, a community that the Tourism Center has assessed in several ways.

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Applied Research The University of Minnesota Tourism Center’s research has been valuable for Minnesota communities that want to understand and strengthen their visitor and tourism economies. We dive into demographic information and economic benefits as well as quali- tative measurements. Here are highlights from three of the 120+ research projects we’ve led or done in partnership with state agencies such as the Minnesota Department of Transportation and state and local tourism organizations.

Minnesota has more than 90 county fairs. OF NOTE

The Numbers

riculture, and Natural Resources, and the College of Education and Human Development all have contributed to the Center’s work, enhancing what we deliver while honing their research, curricu - lum development, and presentation skills.

100,000+ education and training program participants

How will you expand or enhance the work of the Tourism Center?

Work done in 87 Minnesota counties (and beyond) 60,000+ research report downloads since 2014 Developed 1st winery trail in Minnesota

In 2021, the Tourism Center developed a research and programming agenda to guide our work for the next five to eight years. For example, we have begun using a mobile analytics tool in a project with Explore Minnesota Tourism to estimate wel - come center visitor volumes. We also plan to do more work on outdoor recreation and to update our curriculum to meet the needs of the industry and communities. I hope Cooperative Extension will work more closely with the National Extension Tourism network, which connects Extension profession - als working on tourism-related issues across the country. For example, a few states have been doing educational programs that nurture future leaders in the tourism industry. Would it be possible to pool resources to create a nationwide program? Doing so will both increase Cooper - ative Extension’s impact and help Extensions

across the country be a lot more efficient. Would it be possible to host an annual virtual research showcase, so folks from across the country can talk about their latest research projects, learn from and network with each other?

Range Recreation is known primarily for the sport of curling. OF NOTE


t A father and son boat on Gull Lake in Minnesota

Most people come to Union Depot because they are passing through, catching a bus, or boarding an Amtrak train.

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u Photo courtesy of Shelburne Farms in Shelburne, Vermont

communities all over the country look for ways to diversify their resource-de - pendent economies, many are recog - nizing untapped economic potential in their agricultural assets. In Vermont’s rural areas, promoting farms, vine - yards, and other agricultural areas as recreation, education, hospitality, and retail destinations (agritourism) is becoming a significant economic driv - er, generating more than $50 million annually. The University of Vermont (UVM) Ex - tension Agritourism Support Program is helping Vermont’s producers lever - age agritourism opportunities, with connections, research-based infor - mation, and resources like video case studies featuring successful operations and a series of how-to guides. The program operates under the auspic - es of the Vermont Tourism Research Center, the only research center in the state focusing on tourism (including agritourism) and recreation. In this Q&A, Lisa Chase, a natural resources specialist at UVM Extension and director of the Vermont Tour - ism Research Center, discusses the agritourism support program and its impact. A s rural

Agritourism support program from University of Vermont helps build capacity, sustainability for producers Farm to Stab e

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t Photo courtesy of Boyd Family Farm in Wilmington, Vermont q Photo courtesy of Liberty Hill Farm in Rochester, Vermont

tissue, creating a system that is greater than the sum of its parts by linking consumers to producers and promoting environmental stewardship. What are the benefits of your program? Agritourism contributes to rural community development and the conservation of agrobiodi - versity by valuing traditional food cultures and heirloom crops. While agritourism is beneficial for visitors (or consumers) in many ways, pro - ducers also benefit. They benefit by generating additional sources of income, creating more jobs on the farm, and creating different types of jobs that require different skills. This can be especial - ly valuable for farm families wanting to keep the next generation on the land, whether it is their own children or new and aspiring farmers. An - other benefit for producers is the opportunity to

share their agricultural heritage and educate the non-farming public about food, fiber, and fuel production and the stewardship of healthy eco - systems and working lands. Farmers and other agritourism enterprise operators learn skills such as marketing, customer service, and hospitality, as well as how to handle safety and liability issues that arise when farms open to visitors. How does your program use research? We conduct regular needs assessments for produc - ers and agricultural service providers. In 2019, we conducted a nationwide survey of producers and published the results in a variety of formats, includ - ing fact sheets. (See Vermont producer responses in the “What’s in Agritourism For Me?” infograph - ic.) We used these results to develop new resources that producers identified as priorities.

is an ideal way to raise awareness of the value of farms and to promote agricultural literacy. It educates visitors about farming and allows them to experience how food, fiber, and fuel are produced. Agritourism also provides a way for visitors and the community to connect with natural spaces and access local products. Public understanding and appreciation of the value of agriculture is a critical part of sustaining farms and rural communities. Agritourism also diversifies income streams for producers, which helps farms remain economical - ly competitive. And it promotes the development of viable working landscapes, vibrant communi - ties, and healthy ecosystems, which are the build - ing blocks of sustainable and regenerative food systems. Small and medium farms are connective

Q & A Lisa Chase Natural Resources Specialist

University of Vermont

What issues does your program address in your communities?

Spending time on farms and celebrating agri - culture was a regular part of life for most Amer - icans 100 years ago, when 70% of this country’s employment was in agriculture. Today less than 2% of U.S. employment is on farms. Agritourism

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Our website helps farmers prepare for your agritourism activities, assess those already taking place, and connect with resources that can support agritourism.

u Photo courtesy Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing

g g g

g g

“What’s in Agritourism For Me?” Vermont producers have a variety of motivations for exploring agritourism as a way to make their operations more sustain- able. In a recent survey, they rated the following goals as important or very important.


Build community goodwill

Increase farm/ranch revenue

Educate public about ag

Interact with public

Increase traffic to on-farm sales outlet

As an example, producers wanted an easier way to understand agritourism regulations, so we created an online tool to help them navigate those regula - tions. We also use research, often from Extension, to develop tools and resources for producers and agricultural service providers. What kinds of partnerships do you have and why are they important? We partner with farmers and producer associa - tions; community organizations; local and state government; non-governmental organizations and nonprofits; and Extension colleagues in other states. Our partner organizations in Vermont include the Vermont Farm to Plate Network, the Agency of Agriculture, and the Department of Tourism and Marketing. On a national level, we work closely with the National Extension Tour - ism Network. These partnerships ensure that our programs are relevant, timely, and have signifi - cant impacts.

Diversify farm/ranch market channels

91% 90% 87% 83% 80% 74%

p The 2022 International Workshop on Agritourism drew 504 participants (352 in person, 152 virtually). Photo by Bear Cieri, courtesy of Hello Burlington.

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Moving Mountains West Virginia University Extension leans on partnerships to make meaningful differences in rural tourism

I t’s almost impossible to say the state’s name without singing the song—and it’s just as difficult to deny West Virginia’s other-worldly grandeur. Its endless mountains, deep forests, cool rivers and lakes, and meandering rural landscapes make it an ideal (and increasingly popular) outdoor tourism destination.

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u Seneca Rocks is one of West Virginia’s best-known landmarks. Spruce Knob–Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area is one of the National Forest Service’s first national recreation areas.

A ccording to the West Virginia Department of Tourism, the state drew more than 65 million visitors in 2021, and travel-related spend - ing reached $4.6 billion that same year. Tourism is becoming a vital part of the state’s overall and local economies—which makes long-term planning for sustainable tourism critical. West Virginia University (WVU) Extension Rural

the Tourism First Impressions program, and the Sustainable Tourism webinar series. The goal of Mon Forest Towns is to connect the 12 gateway towns within and near the Mononga - hela National Forest to improve quality of life for residents and visitors. Our Extension team part - nered with the Monongahela National Forest and

USDA Rural Development and representatives from the MNF communities to assess the recreation economy strengths and opportunities in these towns, determine how best to brand and market Mon Forest Towns, and create a shared vision for a strong, sustainable recreation economy for the greater

Tourism works with a variety of govern - ment agencies, other WVU departments, and community and business leaders

Q & A Doug Arbogast Extension Specialist

Rural Tourism Development West Virginia University douglas.arbogast@

to identify tourism development strat - egies that maximize economic potential while preserving the region’s character, cultural heritage, and environment.

MNF region.

In this Q&A, WVU Extension Specialist Doug Arbogast talks about the impact that the rural tourism program is making and the importance of collaboration when it comes to big, complex transformations. Describe some of WVU Extension Rural Tourism’s hallmark projects. Four of our most noteworthy are the Mon For - est Towns project, the Voices of Change project,

In the “Voices of Change” project, based on the University of Minnesota’s rural tourism develop - ment model, we developed case studies of tour - ism development in West Virginia. The four video stories we’ve produced so far feature tourism leaders in West Virginia discussing the successes and challenges of tourism development in each of their rural communities.

34 The NET Effect | Extension Foundation/NTAE

The Tourism First Impressions program was adopt - ed by WVU Extension in 2012. It helps communi - ties see their town through the eyes of the first-time visitor, revealing their strengths and weaknesses as tourist destinations. The findings can then form the basis for future development. This program has been a catalyst for other efforts—such as asset map - ping and more thorough assessments and other kinds of participatory research. The Sustainable Tourism webinars draw on the lessons we’ve learned from doing this kind of tourism development work over the past ten years, providing participants with some founda - tional principles of sustainable tourism develop - ment so they can collaborate in their communi - ties to enhance their tourism opportunities. We can’t work with all the towns at the same time, so the webinars provide a tool for scaling up. It’s been great to see interest and regular participa - tion, and a dynamic and evolving curriculum. Talk about the role of partnerships in your tourism development work. The participatory approach we use is critical, Sustainable tourism projects are complex and require the perspectives of people from multiple fields and disciplines. “

because no single program or organization—no matter how well managed or funded it is—can single-handedly create lasting large-scale change. Within WVU, Extension partners with faculty and staff from a variety of colleges and depart - ments, including recreation, parks, and tourism; landscape architecture; the Natural Resources Analysis center; graphic design; public adminis - tration; and business and economics. Collectively, they provide a depth of knowledge and expertise and enhance our ability to help build economic development capacity in under-resourced rural communities.

ing Tucker project. Our transdisciplinary team— which included graphic designers, landscape architects, Extension specialists, and members of the local cultural district authority— co-created a comprehensive tourism development strategy that includes a cultural tourism agenda, trailhead improvements, sustainable growth strategies, and

communities establish indicators that they can measure over time to ensure that their tourism activity is sustainable. TRIP (Tourism, Resilience, and Indicators for Post-Pandemic Planning) will provide a feedback loop that will enable commu - nities to use data to reframe their tourism pro - motion activities and manage growth by estab -

cultural identity components to share, protect and connect Tucker County culture for vis - itors and residents. I also was recently awarded funding from USDA NIFA to lead a multi-state integrated research-Extension project that ultimately will re - sult in an evidence-based desti - nation management framework for rural gateway destinations. We’ll be including some of these participatory design principles into our research activities.

lishing sustainable tourism management strategies and having data they can measure over time to track success and revise strategies as needed.

What lessons are you learning that could help

How does your program use research and best practices?

other Extension professionals?

Research is a significant component of the work we do. We help communities collect and interpret primary data and make good use of secondary data to understand visitor preferences and resi - dent attitudes toward tourism projects, to mea - sure the impact of tourism, and to identify trends. In addition, we use a methodology called “trans - disciplinary public interest design.” We also refer to this process as “Design for Good,” a term coined by the landscape and graphic designers on our team. This approach recognizes that sustainable tourism projects are complex and require the perspectives of people from multiple fields and disciplines. This approach takes time, but the long-term investment allows us to develop strong, trusting relationships with the communities involved.

Be patient. Collaboration (the participatory approach) takes time. You have to be willing to put egos aside and realize that you’re co-learning, and that it’s a mutual process. You are the

What are your plans for expanding the program?

expert, but you’re also a learner. Your approach makes a big difference in gaining trust. You must be able to see it from the community’s perspec - tive. Mutual trust and respect are the pathway to deep - er engagement. Extension provides a pathway to access land-grant resources. There’s tremendous potential there. That’s why it’s very exciting for me to be able to do this work in Extension. Extension is the perfect combination of higher ed and also spending time in communities. I feel as if I’m part of their work at the local level. Our work can shed light on opportunities within Extension and elevate awareness about the need to invest in tourism fac - ulty and support them in Extension work.

I am leading two new multi-state projects that will examine resilience and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic through the lens of rural tour - ism in the Northeast region. We’ll convene Exten - sion and academic faculty across the country to en - courage collaborative assessments of rural tourism at the multi-state level; investigating the resilience, adaptability, and recoverability of different compo - nents of the rural tourism system; and identifying strategies that tourism businesses and destinations are using to cope with the pandemic. A USDA NIFA funded project with partners in four states (Vermont, New Hampshire, Pennsyl - vania and West Virginia) will focus on helping

What are some examples of “Design for Good” projects?

We recently published a peer-reviewed paper that describes how we used this process in our Shar -

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