Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Community Tourism Development: An Opportunity for Park and Recreation Departments

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Community Tourism Development: An Opportunity for Park and Recreation Departments

Article excerpt

Economic conditions have prompted downsizing in corporations, private businesses and community services in many aspects of our society. To stay within the city budgets, many traditional services are being reduced or eliminated. Even those services that remain in place are forced to defend or justify their existence and often to become self supporting. Park and recreation personnel nationwide are threatened by decreasing funds and usually complain that their budget is one of the first to be cut

As community leaders struggle to bolster their local economies they are searching for economic and employment alternatives. Thousands of communities, and increasingly, park and recreation departments have begun to look at the potential of tourism as an economic development strategy and financial support base for their programs.

Community leaders usually recognize the responsibility and impact park and recreation departments have on the quality of life of their citizens. However, they may not recognize the economic potential of park and recreation departments in attracting industry, retirees and new business.

Many park and recreation departments are beginning to position themselves as a major component of the community economic development team. They can and should document the economic impact of their sport tournaments and special events, organized in the past as an integral part of an overall recreation program. Today, park and recreation departments need to recognize that regional and national sports tournaments are much more than necessary recreation programming.

These events bring visitors to communities and support the community's overall economic stability. In 1995, the Blue Springs (MO) Park and Recreation Department conducted research to measure the direct economic impact of a baseball tournament with teams from five states. They found that the tournament generated $244,366 in direct expenditures. These expenditures are obviously an economic boost for the area, but they also position the park and recreation department as an economic development asset and may go a long way in sustaining or increasing the department's budget.

Tourism projects, such as special events or sports tournaments, often begin with a goal of raising money for a special project. Examples include a town that held a fund raising festival to rebuild a fire-damaged historic building, or towns that have held festivals to show their heritage. Other goals may be educational, cultural, to honor a past event or person, or to promote community. As development progresses, specific objectives are refined and tourism begins to be seen as an economic development strategy that will potentially benefit all of the initial goals.

In addition to sports tournaments, many park and recreation departments sponsor bus trips for senior citizens, holiday celebrations and special events. Any of these projects could be expanded to attract visitors. Because park and recreation departments are skilled in recreation programming and have leadership teams and volunteers already in place, participating in a community tourism effort would be easy.

Although community tourism development embraces the idea that in addition to private enterprise development, the community can do some things to enhance its economy through tourism. A sustainable effort, however, requires organization, leadership, products and services, and marketing.


One of the most essential elements of tourism development is a formal organization. If development is anything other than an individual business effort, the organization must be representative of the community it will serve. Its structure is often informal as development efforts begin, but becomes more formal as the industry expands. There are numerous success stories associated with organizations such as chambers of commerce, convention and visitor bureaus and tourism associations (both local and regional). …

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