Rural Community Development and Highlighting Community Assets: Guidance from the Tourists of the Fortress of Louisbourg Cultural Heritage Site

By Nicole Breedon

Tourism offers a unique opportunity for community development – specifically by stimulating community economics. However, for those living in rural and remote locations, there are many significant challenges that may impede these efforts. This can include:

  1. The lack of resources required to create and/ or sustain new attractions for travelers;
  2. Strains on community services during high-season, as well as inconsistent employment opportunities for those who depend on seasonally available attractions;
  3. And difficulties enticing travelers to go out of their way to see and experience these local points of interest.

To be sure, this is a very brief glimpse into a non-exhaustive list of challenges communities may face while hoping to expand on local tourism opportunities. However, the World Travel and Tourism Council explored ways in which Community Conscious Travel could address some of these challenges. Community Conscious Travel has also been described as “slow tourism,” and highlights how rural and remote areas outside of the major cities can market their community assets to inspire visits from travelers. Findings from their vast network demonstrate that the ability for visitors to engage with communities and their lived experience is a point of travel interest. If communities were to highlight pre-existing assets and activities that allow for these authentic engagements, it could alleviate some pressures to allocate resources on infrastructure and new attractions. Additionally, if communities are able to market experiences that are available year-round rather than those that are seasonal, some of the tensions for communities such as the surges of unemployment and strain on community services could be reduced.

While these strategies offer important considerations for community development with regard to tourism, it’s equally as important that communities understand what the interests of rural and remote travelers are. This desire to explore these interests is what inspired a tourism research project at the Fortress of Louisbourg. The town of Louisbourg has beautiful cafes and shops, and hosts many events attracting visitors that are traveling in Cape Breton. However, this small town is 45 minutes away from the nearest city, making it a great example of rural and remote tourism.

For the past three summers, I have worked as a field technician and osteologist for the University of New Brunswick (UNB) bioarchaeology field school program, held at the Fortress of Louisbourg Cultural Heritage Site. Throughout this 2023 field season, I was granted permission from the Project Director of the UNB field school, Dr. Amy Scott, and the Cultural Resource Manager of the Parks Canada Cape Breton Field Unit, Maura McKeough, to conduct surveys with the Parks visitors regarding their interests in travel and tourism as it related to the Fortress, and Canada overall.

In total, 30 visitors participated in the surveys – and though the results of the surveys are forthcoming, some preliminary findings show that:

  • All but one respondent (96.66%) thought it was important for people to see the cultural heritage sites and learn about the history of Canada;
  • 93.3% (28/30) of responding participants indicated that they enjoyed to explore different sights and gain new experiences when they travel;
  • And 43.3% (13/30) of responding participants indicated that they wanted to engage with communities and acquire new perspectives through these engagements.

It’s important to note that because these surveys were conducted at the Fortress of Louisbourg, the engaged demographic primarily consisted of those already demonstrating interest in rural and remote tourism. Regardless, through these conversations it became clear that many travelers want to learn more about the places they are traveling to and partake in experiences that immerse them within the local culture. The hope is that with further exploration into these surveys, as well as collaboration with established research centers and community engagement, the Rural Development Institute may be able to offer strategies and recommendations to enhance local tourism in rural and remote areas within the Westman Region.