Jumping on the bandwagon : an examination of mural-based tourism as a strategy for community economic development in rural areas
Koster, Rhonda L. P.
As towns and cities across Canada face rapidly changing economic circumstances, many are turning to a variety of strategies, including tourism, to provide stability in their communities. Community Economic Development (CED) has become an accepted form of economic development, with the recognition that such planning benefits from a more holistic approach and community participation. However, much of why particular strategies are chosen, what process the community undertakes to implement those choices and how success is measured is not fully understood. Furthermore, CED lacks a developed theoretical basis from which to examine these questions. By investigating communities that have chosen to develop their tourism potential through the use of murals, these various themes can be explored. There are three purposes to this research: 1) to acquire an understanding of the 'how' and the 'why' behind the adoption and diffusion of mural-based tourism as a CED strategy in rural communities; 2) to contribute to the emerging theory of CED by linking together theories of rural geography, rural change and sustainability, and rural tourism; and 3) to contribute to the development of a framework for evaluating the potential and success of tourism development within a CED process. Two levels of data collection and analysis were employed in this research. Initially, a survey of Canadian provincial tourism guides was conducted to determine the number of communities in Canada that market themselves as having a muralbased tourism attraction (N=32). A survey was sent to these communities, resulting in 31 responses suitable for descriptive statistical analysis, using Statistical Package for the Social Sciences. A case study analysis of the 6 Saskatchewan communities was conducted through in-depth, in person interviews with 40 participants. These interviews were subsequently analyzed utilizing a combined Grounded Theory and Content Analysis approach. The surveys indicated that mural development spread within a relatively short time period across Canada from Chemainus, British Columbia. Although tourism is often the reason behind mural development, increasing community spirit and beautification were also cited. This research demonstrates that the reasons this choice is made and the successful outcome of that choice is often dependent upon factors related to community size, proximity to larger populations and the economic (re)stability of existing industry. Analysis also determined that theories of institutional thickness, governance, embeddedness and conceptualizations of leadership provide a body of literature that offers an opportunity to theorize the process and outcomes of CED in rural places while at the same time aiding our understanding of the relationship between tourism and its possible contribution to rural sustainability within a Canadian context. Finally, this research revealed that both the CED process undertaken and the measurement of success are dependent upon the desired outcomes of mural development. Furthermore, particular attributes of rural places play a critical role in how CED is understood, defined and carried out, and how successes, both tangible and intangible, are measured.