Tourism is extremely important to Australia; in the year ending September 2009, 5.1 million international tourists visited, with their total A$17 billion expenditure positioning tourism as the second highest export earner (Australian Tourism Export Council 2007; Commonwealth of Australia 2009b). Domestically, Australians spent 257 million nights away from home, equating to A$42.2 billion in expenditure, as well as another A$14.4 billion on day trips (Commonwealth of Australia 2009a). With approximately one fifth of the international and half of the domestic expenditure spent in non-metropolitan areas, tourism is a significant industry for regional and rural Australian communities.
Rural tourism, broadly defined as "anything which draws tourists beyond major metropolitan areas" (Department of Tourism as cited in Knowd 2001), encompasses a wide range of activities such as food and wine trails, farm stays, farm product sales, agricultural festivals and adventures in the countryside (e.g., hiking, biking, rock-climbing, rafting). For regional and rural Australia, which has experienced significant and ongoing challenges in recent years including declining populations (e.g., youth out-migration, population ageing), a changing climate (e.g., ongoing drought), and multiple economic stresses on agricultural businesses (e.g., increased input prices, reduced farm-gate prices, competing in global marketplace), tourism is viewed as a critical opportunity to grow and diversify the local economy, attract new residents and business, and help ensure the ongoing viability of their community. Yet, despite tourism being widely promoted as a priority for regional and rural Australia (Commonwealth of Australia 2006), relatively little is known about how local residents view and manage tourism in the context of other competing priorities, issues and alternative industries, such as agriculture, mining and peri-urban development. Thus, this article explores the experience of two communities in the Darlings Downs region of Queensland, Australia--utilizing a sustainable development framework, our focus is to identify the opportunities, strategies and challenges associated with tourism for regional and rural communities, both now and into the future.
Tourism development in regional and rural communities
Facing the decline of traditional agricultural industries, regional and rural communities often view tourism as the 'magic panacea'; it stimulates the economy, increases and diversifies employment and business opportunities, facilitating vibrant local communities that promote and protect important natural, cultural and heritage assets. However, the reality of tourism development and investment is not universally positive. As with any industry, the development of tourism can lead to conflict and mixed feelings from long-time local residents who experience changes to the 'feel of the community' and may resent the development of the natural environment and competition for limited labor force, as tourism draws the limited labor force away from traditional agriculture and manufacturing industries. Critically, proper management, planning and community engagement can help ensure that tourism development has a complementary--not conflicting--role in regional and rural communities.
The Sustainable Development of Tourism
The emergence of sustainability as a consideration facilitates this engagement and planning process, meaning that a 'sustainable development mindset' is adopted with equal consideration of the economic, environmental and social dimensions. This 'triple bottom line' (TBL) approach is becoming increasingly common in the business world, with corporations widening their circle of responsibility and acknowledging, for the first time, that they must focus "not just on the economic value that they add, but also on the environmental and social value they add--or destroy" (Elkington 2004). …