Social economy enterprises and rural tourism

Thursday, December 9, 2010
by Peter Johnson

The social economy has long been an interest of mine. As a former employee of Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), one of Canada’s largest and most successful consumer cooperatives, I’ve experienced first-hand the advantages (and challenges) of the ‘third sector’ (not-for-profit, co-op, volunteer organizations, etc.).

FARMED website.

Last year, I decided to turn my interest in the social economy into a presentation at the 2009 Canadian Association of Geographers Annual Meeting at Carleton University. I had always been struck by the possibility of social economy enterprises (see a great list from the Canadian Social Economy Hub) within rural or remote areas where capital may be scarce. I began to do some research on existing tourism-related social economy enterprises and while there are a few prominent ones, I was surprised at how few references I found. My presentation for the Canadian Association of Geographers (CAG) conference described many of the Canadian examples that I could find and theorized that there are two main roles that social economy enterprises can play in rural tourism development:

  • Supportive, such as financing, tourism association, advertising co-op. There are many of examples of co-operative tourism associations across Canada, but one standout example is the Viking Trail Tourism Association in Newfoundland and Labrador.
  • Direct product delivery, such as operating an attraction). There are not as many examples of this category, but another excellent one is North Caribou Farm Tours (FARMED) in British Columbia.

Viking Trail website.

I was then invited by Dr. Rhonda Koster, from Lakehead University to develop this presentation into a paper for publication in the Journal of Rural and Community Development (JRCD). It is a modest paper, more of a literature review and outline for further studies, but nevertheless, I hope that it can start to bring the rural tourism and social economy literatures closer together. JRCD is an open access journal, so you can download the paper.