Rural communities in the United States have experienced increasing economic challenges in recent decades and many have looked to increase tourism in their destinations as a means to support economic development. Tourism in these rural destinations tends to be undertaken by independent travellers using private vehicles. The current research explores the factors that have contributed to an increased focus on rural tourism and examines two key challenges experienced in the development of tourism in general, and rural tourism specifically. The first challenge is determining which statistical techniques best explain the factors contributing to tourism demand. The second challenge addressed in the current research is identifying which factors contribute to tourism demand.
Tourism and rural renewal
The continuing economic and social decline of rural areas has been recognized as a crucial factor threatening the sustainability of rural regions in the United States. Since the 1970s, the decline in rural areas has made a negative impact on the economic, social, and cultural aspects of rural communities. During the 1980s the "farm crisis" in the Midwest of the United States had harmful effects on rural society (Wilson et al., 2001). Since then, rural communities have sought alternative ways to address the rural exodus and the economic challenges, many of them having turned to tourism to support economic development. Rural tourism can, thus, be a major element of rural and regional development as well as a driving force of rural community's social revitalization (Skuras, 2006). Additionally, rural tourism has attracted the attention of destination marketers, policy makers, and scholars as a means of facilitating rural society's revitalization (Lane, 1994; Gartner, 2004; Fleischer & Tchetchik, 2005; Hegarty & Przezborska, 2005; Loureiro & Jervell, 2005).
Successful rural tourism development requires essential factors to provide an appealing consumer experience. The factors include basic tourism attractions in rural areas, marketing activities by the local Destination Marketing Organization (DMO), tourism infrastructure like transportation, tourism related services (e.g. lodging, restaurants, and retail services), and hospitality by host community's residents (Wilson et al., 2001). One factor that is particularly important to rural tourism development is road access to the destination as most rural attractions are isolated from public transportation and rural tourists tend to use private modes of transportation (Dickinson and Robbins, 2008). As such, the drive tourism market or "self drive" rural tourists can be regarded as one of the main target markets in rural tourism destinations.
Increased tourism demand may exert both positive and negative effects on a rural destination. Tourism destination and economic development managers should carefully plan to maximize the benefits of their activities. Dickinson and Robbins (2008) said car travel has contributed to tourism development in rural areas, but such travel also may cause global environmental issues and local travel problems, and that increased tourism demand, which is due to drive tourism, could aggravate quality of life in rural destinations. On the contrary, it is reported that drive tourists' activity is an important source to improve rural destination's vitality and economic development (Taylor & Carson, 2010). Most of drive tourism studies agreed that rural destinations can gain economic and social benefit from drive tourism as long as rural destinations can deal with adverse impact from car-based trips. Nevertheless, it is important for researchers, policy makers, and practitioners to understand the demand factors of rural tourism for effective planning purposes.
Drive tourism and rural tourism development
Drive tourism can be defined as "tourism that centres on travelling from an origin point to a destination by car that is either privately owned or rented, and engaging in tourism-related activities during the journey" (Prideaux et al. …