Rural tourism ‘studio’: Community invited to help shape vision

February, 2016 Posted in Community
Community Tourism Training
Tuesdays, March 20 and April 12
9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Register: allison@growsantiam.org

By Mary Owen

Starting in March, a pilot program from Travel Oregon will give the communities of the North Santiam River region a chance to explore ways to link assets and attract visitors.

“We began a conversation with Travel Oregon last summer about being their pilot project for the new format,” said Allison McKenzie, executive director for GROW-EDC, who will oversee the progressive program designed to assist rural communities in sustainable tourism development.

McKenzie views the partnership as a way for Travel Oregon to increase high-value, authentic experiences for travelers and for the North Santiam region to explore tourism as an economic driver for the area.

“With varied outdoor recreation assets, we have an opportunity to build a robust tourism economy in our own backyard,” she said. “It can be very difficult to create a tourism destination in one small community, however much we would like to do that. But by linking our outdoor recreation assets together through the North Santiam River region, we will be able to highlight those special places that each of our hometowns has to offer. In other words, we are more magnetic and appealing when we link together that when each of our communities tries to go it along. We become a region with multiple interesting stops in one cohesive destination.”

McKenzie called the Rural Tourism Studio a “win-win” for both Travel Oregon and GROW.

“Sometimes people worry that working together on a regional basis might diminish their individuality or somehow make their own community less special, McKenzie said. “Being involved in a regional tourism effort usually has the opposite effect because it amplifies what is special in each area and community, and makes each place a more appealing stop for visitors within a key destination.”

Based on feedback from the North Santiam Economic Summit held last April, GROW has wanted to promote tourism in the region for a while, McKenzie said.

“This is the right time to move forward with a project of this magnitude, given the enthusiasm for tourism that is mounting in our area,” she said.

Spearheaded by GROW, Community Tourism Trainings will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, March 20 and Tuesday, April 12, locations to be determined. Additionally, four online webinars will take place between the two training sessions to be complete individually or through a facilitated group discussion.

“We encourage anyone interested in tourism to register for these trainings and attend as much or as little of it as they can,” McKenzie said. “One of the concepts I like best about Travel Oregon’s rural tourism training is that it relies on the input of community members to create something that fits who we are. They don’t come to us with a boilerplate project. We get to decide what we want to focus on, how we want to be known, and how we want to proceed.

“That kind of organic, bottom-up process works well in a region where we are long on local know-how and ingenuity and short on big dollars,” she added. “It can get a little messy at times with so many voices coming together, but with Travel Oregon’s capable facilitation and our local enthusiasm, we’ll come up with something that is 100 percent our own. I love that!”

McKenzie called the pilot project a good fit because GROW is in a position to continue offering support and structure after the training.

“We are very comfortable with organic projects and welcome the opportunity to keep this process going,” she said. “Our goal is for tourism to become a meaningful economic driver in our region, and we are happy to do our part.”

McKenzie said the region is “smack dab” on the trajectory of a solar eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017, and some of the best places to view the phenomenon will be in the towns along Highway 22.

“With thousands of people expected to descend on Oregon, we also see this tourism training as a great opportunity to get our ducks in a row so we are better prepared for this once-in-a-lifetime event for our area,” she said.

Training sessions for the program are open to anyone who has a business connected to tourism and any community member or city official interested in tourism from the communities of Aumsville, Scio and all of the towns in the North Santiam River corridor up to Marion Forks.

GROW thanks those who provided support for this project, including: Rural Development Initiatives; the incorporated cities from Aumsville to Idanha; Mid-Willamette Valley Council of Governments; Stayton/Sublimity Chamber of Commerce; North Santiam Chamber of Commerce; Detroit Lake Recreation Area Business Association; Travel Salem; Marion and Linn County Commissioners; North Santiam Young Professionals; Representative Sherrie Sprenger; and the U.S. Forest Service/Detroit Ranger District.

“Depending on what we hear from local people, we will likely offer a recap of the training highlights later in April to those who are unable to attend the Tuesday trainings,” McKenzie said. “The more people who learn about and understand these tourism principals, the better.”

For more information on the studio or to register, e-mail McKenzie at allison@growsantiam.org.

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