Tourism Planning and Power within Micropolitan Community Development

By Obenour, William L.; Cooper, Nelson | Community Development: Journal of the Community Development Society, July-September 2010 | Go to article overview

Tourism Planning and Power within Micropolitan Community Development


Obenour, William L., Cooper, Nelson, Community Development: Journal of the Community Development Society


The purpose of this research is to investigate the community planning processes associated with the development of a new and iconic attraction in a micropolitan community. The four sources of evidence in the case study research were communication with community leaders, planning documents, newspaper articles, and observations. Two hypotheses were formulated with the first phrased as planning for a proposed iconic tourist attraction is heavily swayed by power networks for immediate gains in economic development and was not being supported by the research. The rival hypothesis was phrased as planning for organic growth of selected recreational assets into tourist attractions is realized through collaborative power networks and public involvement based on long-term sustainability was supported. Analytic generalization applies to power networks, planning processes, and tourism integration in community development. The analyses contained two power networks termed iconic and integrative. An illustration incorporating power networks and a planning continuum is presented.

Keywords: development; tourism; planning; power; case study; micropolitan

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Community development includes planning for tourists' experiences within metropolitan population centers as well as micropolitan communities with established tourist attractions such as Branson, Missouri (USA) or with existing natural attractions such as Hilton Head Island, SC (USA). In the United States, attention on tourism has been on the metropolitan centers of the larger cities in the United States which include 83% of the population compared to micropolitan areas with 10.3% (Mackun, 2005). Micropolitan communities are a rural county with an urban cluster with between 10,000 and 49,999 people and a total area population of up to 249,999 (Mackun, 2005). The micropolitan designation was officially incorporated in the United States in 2003 and provides a uniform definition for differentiating non-metropolitan areas from metropolitan areas (Brown, Cromartie, & Kulcsar, 2004).

Development of tourism attractions is one economic strategy for micropolitan areas that are faced with the loss of employment in primary sectors such as manufacturing, slow growth in population of 1.6% between 2000 and 2003, a decrease in the net migration of residents, and a need to diversify its economy (Vias, Mulligan, & Molin, 2002). New tourist attractions for the 560 micropolitan statistical areas in the United States (Mackun, 2005) are sought to spur consumption, job creation, and further economic development (Gartner, 2005).

There is scant literature on the integration of tourism and attraction development within community planning for micropolitan communities. Public monies are increasingly spent to spur the development of tourism attractions and diversify a small town's economy. The rational is similar to metropolitan areas whose leaders provide economic stimulation by building tourism infrastructure with public monies to produce a prominent place image to lure more visitors, residents, and businesses to the area (Law, 2002). Metropolitan areas have greater experience with tourism development initiated by entrepreneurs and expertise in planning than micropolitan communities. Within micropolitan communities, planning for tourism attractions become enmeshed within power structures and a contested purpose of planning within government (Bramwell & Meyer, 2007; Cheong & Miller, 2000; Ingamells, 2007). This paper contributes to research on tourism and community development by applying the concepts of planning and power networks (Reed, 1997) to the process of developing a tourist attraction in a micropolitan community.

The purpose of this research is to investigate power within the community planning processes associated with the development of a new and iconic attraction in a micropolitan community. Case study research provides a technique to analyze the purpose statement because it is a holistic situation involving multiple concepts (Verschuren, 2003), it also utilizes multiple sources (Yin, 1993), focuses on a process over a period of time (Mitchell, 1983), and comprises a unique and complex phenomenon (Stake, 1995). …

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