Examining the use of student extension tours to expose the costs and benefits of tourism to rural communities
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This article focuses on the use of student extension tours to understand the realities of tourism development in the rural context through dialogue with community and business leaders. The examples provided will be drawn from three tours that took place within British Columbia from 2006 to 2008. In an extension tour, the learning environment is expanded outside of the classroom as a group of faculty and students (usually from a number of tertiary institutions) venture into rural communities. In this project, the focus of extension activity was to (a) give students from typically urban backgrounds the opportunity to gain insight through a “rural lens”; (b) connect rural community operators and local/municipal government agencies with resources from the academic sector; and (c) initiate dialogue about the realities of tourism in rural Canada. Theoretically, the notion of extension tours follows along the continuum of Kolb's (1984) experiential learning cycle, with a modification that such a cycle links to both individual students and the wider communities with which they interact. Students, as future industry leaders, learned to apply their book knowledge to real life in a rural setting. During their experience they became more aware of the costs and benefits, challenges, and opportunities of and for tourism in rural areas. Upon reflection that took place each evening, students were able to generalize what should or could be done differently or better. They then applied these lessons in the next community along the route. Through a number of mechanisms this knowledge was then fed back to participants on the other side of the dialogue (community members/operators/local and municipal government), both in immediate and longer-term ways.