Sponsoring Institution
National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Project Status
Funding Source
Reporting Frequency
Accession No.
Grant No.
Project No.
Proposal No.
Multistate No.
Program Code
Project Start Date
Jan 1, 2022
Project End Date
Dec 31, 2025
Grant Year
Project Director
Arbogast, D.
Recipient Organization
PO BOX 6031
Performing Department
Non Technical Summary
Land-grant universities are positioned to harness their research and outreach expertise to provide the data and planning support required to assist rural destinations in creating a framework for sustainable management of their destinations in order to achieve the desired results. Rural destination managers need data and planning support to develop comprehensive management strategies to harness potential economic gains through tourism while minimizing the negative environmental and social impacts that can occur from increased visitation. While rural tourism development can benefit rural areas and help transform rural economies, more research is needed to identify indicators of sustainable rural tourism development and inform planning that can guide destination stakeholders in creating management strategies for long-term success. The project proposed here addresses these challenges via integrated research and extension activities. The long-term goal of this project is to enhance the sustainability and resiliency of rural destinations by providing research-based information and a destination management framework for rural gateway destinations. Proactive destinations have engaged stakeholders and an organization with a specific focus on promotion and management, a.k.a, a destination management organization (DMO). DMO roles identified by tourism literatureas important for achieving excellence include leadership and coordination, planning and research, product development, marketing and promotion, partnership and teambuilding, and community relations. However, examples of how DMOs balance these roles and coordinated responses to management concerns at the state and local levels are notably absent. While past attention has focused on rural destination management strategies in other countries, notably Europe, research and planning support targeted to rural tourism destinations in the US is only slowly emerging.
Animal Health Component
Research Effort Categories

Knowledge Area (KA)Subject of Investigation (SOI)Field of Science (FOS)Percent
Knowledge Area
134 - Outdoor Recreation;

Subject Of Investigation
0599 - Recreational resources, general/other;

Field Of Science
3080 - Sociology;
Goals / Objectives
The specific objectives of the proposed project are to:Objective 1: Identify economic, social, and environmental indicators for sustainable tourism (across all US counties and in three case study communities) Obj. 1a. Use secondary data to determine the level and type of tourism activity in each rural US county, and ground-truth these indicators in 3 case study destinations. Three communities will be selected for in-depth study in each participating state, using a combination of local knowledge and outliers that are identified from the regression analysis (lying above or below the line): West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Vermont/New Hampshire. The purpose of the in-depth studies is to evaluate the impacts on tourism development and the COVID-19 pandemic on rural community well-being in gateway communities, validate the quantitative indicators, and implement community assessment and planning programs to identify opportunities to improve management of the destination and community well-being through tourism. The local case study and broader econometric research will be used interactively to mutually inform and reinforce one another.Obj. 1b. Holistically evaluate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on these select gateway communities from a community and economic development perspective.Objective 2: Survey residents and visitors in case study destinations to identify social and environmental indicators.Obj. 2a. Use resident surveys conducted electronically through purchased email addresses to further explore social, environmental, and economic indicators of tourism developmentObj. 2b. Use visitor surveys conducted with Qualtrics targeting recent visitors to the gateway communities from target markets to further explore social, environmental, and economic indicators of tourism development.Objective 3: Deliver Extension programming in targeted gateway communities through pilot programming using the research-based insights generated in objectives 1 and 2.Obj. 3a. The Extension team participating in this project will conduct Tourism First Impressions assessments of the targeted gateway communities to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats and COVID-19 impact to the destinations from an external perspective.Obj. 3b. The Extension team participating in this project will use the sustainability indicators identified in objectives 1 and 2 and the results of the Tourism First Impressions assessments to facilitate a destination management and planning process with the selected gateway destinations. Outputs will include a destination management plan for sustainable rural tourism that utilizes indicators of sustainable tourism development to measure and manage impacts to achieve the goals of the community for long-term resiliency. Objective 4: Assess change over time and associated impacts thus providing a mechanism to update the data on a regular basis to monitor changes and reflect on community goals.Obj. 4a. Develop and implement an indicator monitoring processes to monitor the indicators identified in objectives 1 and 2Obj. 4b. Assess changes in select indicators and progress toward destination sustainability goals identified in destination management plans.
Project Methods
Significance of Creating Sustainable Tourism IndicatorsIn an examination of rural destinations in Russia, Polukhina, et al., (2021) identified the need for a unified system of indicators to balance the benefits and costs of different stakeholders, aimed at stimulating interregional and inter-municipal cooperation to help manage the impacts of the increasing interest in visiting rural areas due to COVID-19. Gateway communities in the United States suffer from a similar lack of research-based performance indicators to measure and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses and clearly identify where additional resources are needed to enhance the tourism and recreation economy. The project team will develop an integrated process for measuring and evaluating sustainable tourism performance indicators. By understanding the factors that make destinations resilient the project will produce policy recommendations and general guidelines for improving destination and gateway community well-being.In addition to secondary data collection and analysis, local stakeholders including key informants, residents, and visitors will be targeted to identify the current economic, environmental, and social impact of tourism and the recreation economy and attitudes and preferences for future development. One key component of developing community-based tourism in a sustainable manner is to understand residents' attitudes toward tourism development. Authors have argued that residents supportive of tourism are a key ingredient to providing high quality visitor experiences (Fick & Ritchie, 1991) and that the attitudes and perceptions of local residents should directly inform tourism planning (Ap, 1992). Additionally, market research is essential in order to understand the motives, behaviors, information sources used and demographic characteristics of visitors in order to segment and target specific groups of travelers that match the visitor experience offered in the destination (Dolnicar & Leisch, 2008; Hassan, 2000). According to Ritchie and Crouch (2003), sustainable tourism planning and development requires developing an understanding of visitors and their perceptions of the destination. This information is invaluable for sustainable tourism destinations to develop the physical infrastructure and programs that reflect sustainability goals of local residents and in turn develop promotional campaigns to attract the appropriate visitor segments (Dinan & Sargeant, 2000).By engaging multiple and diverse stakeholders the project team will be able to triangulate data from multiple sources and thoroughly examine how public land can impact gateway communities and what role recreation in public land plays in enhancing the quality of life for local residents and attracting visitors to the region in order to influence regional branding and marketing and asset development. Initial assessment of secondary data, businesses, residents and visitors will establish a baseline of impacts with the intent to monitor this data to determine trends over time.Significance of the Extension/Outreach componentOur project will provide research-based information on success factors for resilient and sustainable gateway communities to DMO leaders and other relevant tourism development stakeholders. This data is critical for sound decision making as rural destinations with limited capacity and resources work to invest in the factors that will lead to long-term sustainability. Additionally, we will develop training materials that will allow Extension professionals across the country to undertake similar planning efforts with gateway communities and rural tourism destinations in their respective states.The Tourism First Impressions program is designed to help a destination learn about existing strengths and weaknesses as seen through the eyes of the first-time visitor. The program brings neutral, unbiased visitors to a region to assess destination attributes. While the findings can then form the basis for future development, WVU Extension Specialists realized the need for additional engagement and planning support for rural communities struggling to connect the dots and harness the economic opportunities rural tourism can provide while managing the potential social and environmental impacts. Proposed planning initiatives will use mixed-methods and multi-perspective approaches to tourism development planning (Arbogast, et al., 2020) that integrate primary and secondary data via key informant interviews, resident attitudes surveys, visitor preference surveys, economic impact analysis benchmarking, participatory asset identification and mapping. The data gathered from these exercises will be paired with local knowledge and community dialogue to map opportunities and priorities for tourism development. In previous Extension efforts led by the PD, research outputs and recommendations were translated into community impacts including establishing a destination management framework, hiring a full-time county planner, and signage improvements that incorporate a unified branding strategy (Arbogast et al., 2017).

Progress 01/01/22 to 12/31/22

Target Audience:We are making considerable progress on many of the grant objectives. Our project team meets monthly to discuss and task out grant activities. Our target audiences include the case study regions we are working with in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Vermont. We have assembled local leadership teams in each case study region and have regularly scheduled zoom meetings with them to discuss the objectives of the grant and structure activities using their feedback. Visitor surveys are being drafted that will be disseminated to target markets for visitors in each of the case study regions Changes/Problems: Nothing Reported What opportunities for training and professional development has the project provided?the project has provided a great opportunity to network and collaborate with the project team which includes academic and Extension faculty from four different states. The project team is learning together how to create new and dynamic tools to support rural tourism. Virtual training programs in sustainable destination management are currently being developed for the tourism leadership teams in the case study destinations. How have the results been disseminated to communities of interest?Tourism leadership teams have been assesmbled in case study destinations. When research results are available they will be disseminated to the local destination management teams What do you plan to do during the next reporting period to accomplish the goals?Objective 2: secondary indicators will be defined, measured, and reported to the local destination management teams. Primary data will be collected from both residents and visitors and disseminated to the localdestination management teams. Objective 3: Tourism First Impression assessments will be conducted in each of the targeted case study destinations and results shared with the local destination management teams to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats and COVID-19 impact to the destinations from an external perspective..

What was accomplished under these goals? obj. 1a and 1b We have published a paper "An Early Assessment of COVID-19's Impact on Tourism in U.S. Counties" at Tourism Economics. In this work, we examine how COVID-19 affects the US regional economy for the leisure and hospitality (L&H) sector. We found that counties with higher initial employment were hurt more in the pandemic, which indicates the larger losses happened in counties that have high dependency on tourism industry. We also found counties tended to experience smaller losses in L&H employment the smaller and more distant they were from the urban core. As for policy implications, we suggest that rural destinations could consider tourism development policies that emphasize a balanced approach to environmental sustainability, quality of life, and the tourism economy; and local, state, and federal policies and programs could strengthen community and destination responses to future economic shocks. A center brief "Impacts of COVID-19 on Northeast Tourism and Recreation Economies" was also prepared for the Northeast L&H sector. We published a conference proceeding "The U.S. Recreation Economy: Data, COVID-19, and Implications for Extension" at the National Extension Tourism (NET) 2021 Conference Proceedings. In this work, we found that L&H sector employment collapsed in the first month of the pandemic (March 2020), declining by more than 50%. In comparison, employment in the other major sectors fell by a quarter or less, indicating the L&H was among the worst hit sectors during the early COVID-19 pandemic. We suggest the need for integrated programing to address challenges should be pursued to encourage knowledge sharing and cross-state collaborative research and outreach programing. obj. 2a and 2b secondary indicators for sustainable tourism have been identified and are being validated through a delphi study visitor and resident surveys have been drafted and are being reviewed and edited by the project team before pilot testing and dissemination in 2023. obj. 3a case study destinations have been identified and local tourism leadership teams engaged to work collaboratively with the project team to accomplish the research objectives. Case study destinations include the Upper Valley region of Vermont and New Hampshire, four counties in northwest Pennsylvania, and the Monongahela National Forest region of West Virgina. Self assessments have been conducted in the targeted case study destinations. The Extension team is preparing to launch the First Impressions assessment in 2023.


  • Type: Journal Articles Status: Published Year Published: 2022 Citation: Han, L., Goetz, S. J., Eades, D., Entsminger, J., & Arbogast, D. (2022). An early assessment of COVID-19s impact on tourism in US counties. Tourism Economics, 13548166221107814.
  • Type: Conference Papers and Presentations Status: Published Year Published: 2022 Citation: Goetz, S. J., Han, L., Eades, D., Entsminger, J., & Arbogast, D. (2022). The U.S. Recreation Economy: Data, COVID-19, and Implications for Extension. National Extension Tourism 2021 Conference Proceedings (1st ed). Kansas City: Extension Foundation