|"Communities around the world face the challenge of capturing the elusive tourist. The New Zealand Tourism Research Institute (NZTRI) works on a global level with communities helping them link more effectively to this important industry - creating jobs, income and opportunities. The Institute also helps communities manage tourism in a sustainable way."|
Using the internet to enhance tourism’s ability to create sustainable community economic development: The case of www.westernsouthland.co.nz
It’s a website that gives the community of Western Southland an opportunity to present themselves to the world on their terms. The creation of www.westernsouthland.co.nz brings the whole community together to develop the content of their web pages using open source software created by AUT University’s NZTRI.
Director of NZTRI, Professor Simon Milne, says the website is like no other. “It’s a tourism marketing and development tool as well as a community building instrument for the people and businesses of the area.”
Website with a difference
The community-built website allows people and businesses to determine how they would like to be portrayed to visitors and the rest of the world. Tips from locals on the ‘good places to go’, events, accommodation, trails, things to do are all treasured nuggets for visitors. The website serves as a digital resource for community heritage, and can also be used to inform visitors of what to expect and how to behave, when they get to a community.
"Using mapping technologies, the site helps visitors with planning a trip around the region and raising the competitiveness of the area as a visitor destination", Professor Milne says. “The site also acts as a focus for the community’s online ambitions as it represents a reflection on what constitutes the locality and what is happening there.”
The project has been ongoing since 2004. The methods and techniques for creating such a website are called ‘web-raising’ and involves engaging young locals with active interests in computers and technology, right through to elderly residents who can tell their stories of the past.
Professor Milne and the NZTRI team drew on past Foundation for Research, Science and Technology funded research in the Hokianga and East Cape regions of New Zealand and additional work with Inuit communities funded by the Canadian Federal Government for the project. The result is this highly successful website created using a mix of tried and tested ‘know-how’ with innovative technologies and techniques.
NZTRI’s skill in bringing together organisations with common goals and creating alliances was put to the test when plans were made to further develop the site for Western Southland. Professor Milne says NZTRI partnered with the Western Southland Promotions Association Inc in securing Community Partnership Funding through the NZ Digital Strategy.
“One of the aims of the project has been to build on and enhance the current broadband roll-out in Southland by promoting the use of podcasting in the local community. By giving key community players a head start in the use of podcasts, the project interlinks community members, small and medium-size tourism enterprises and other organisations, visitors and even prospective residents of the region. The project introduces, promotes and fosters skills in digital voice recording, editing and publishing and acts as an incentive for broadband uptake.”
In addition to information about businesses and communities the website now houses a growing series of podcasts that were scripted, recorded, edited and uploaded by locals who learnt the skills to do this through community workshops that trained 55 locals aged between 10 and 80! Podcast content ranges from local stories and history, through to family recipes, tips for visitors and commentaries on native bird watching.
The locals of Western Southland are using podcasting and other digital media to 'pass the word' and attract people to their place - promoting the region as a great place to work, play, visit and live, thus generating income and jobs in this rural part of New Zealand. The model is now being developed and adapted for use elsewhere in New Zealand and overseas.
"There was a desire to revitalise and regenerate the towns and communities of Western Southland and attract people to live and work in an area that had been significantly affected by a downturn in the agricultural sector and depopulation due to job losses caused by closure of local industry (eg timber mills and coal mines). Key individuals and community leaders wanted to optismise existing local resources and assets for community social and economic well-being.
There was a strong desire amongst tourism, SME, local residents, community groups, and other private enterprise to capture local stories and archive important local heritage information. This was the main catalyst for community engagement with tourism. They realised their local 'lore' was a valuable resource for residents and visitors alike (local lore refers to folklore, legends and storytelling and includes tips for travellers, community values and local knowledge). If we consider local 'lore' as a tourism asset, we see congruence with emerging trends for ICT use in tourism."
NZTRI brings together experts from around the world to deliver innovative research solutions for the industry and those who depend on it. Research at NZTRI enables business, community and government to develop profitable and sustainable industry outcomes. The institute is a recognised leader in graduate student research and education, with many alumni in key international academic and industry positions.
Professor Milne is Director of NZTRI and Associate Head, Research and Development, School of Hospitality and Tourism at AUT. His recent work has focused on better understanding the links between information technology, tourism and local economic development. He has considerable international experience in local and regional economic impact assessment, tourism strategy development, small and medium enterprise performance and industry sector analysis.
New Zealand Hospitality and Tourism Research Conference 2010
'Adding value through research'
24-26 November, 2010
Hyperlocal sites exist to empower community to communicate and influence others about the place where they live, work and play - and to encourage newcomers (and tourists) to the area. There is also a 'political' aspect to these sites - with opportunities to blog about and debate very 'local' issues and put forward opinions to local government. So much so that they are increasingly playing a recognised role in citizen engagement in eDemocracy and eGovernment - with a call for politicians to see social media as a two-way street. Some international examples:
And a local example: