Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design


Recreation, Parks and Tourism Resources

Committee Chair

Jinyang Deng

Committee Co-Chair

Kudzayi Maumbe

Committee Member

Steven Selin

Committee Member

David Smaldone

Committee Member

L. Chris Plein


While rural tourism has been a prominent topic of tourism research sine the 1970’s, more research is needed to further identify key factors for success and methodologies successful in achieving both theoretical and practical outcomes that can advance field of study. This study attempted to apply a mixed methods approach, utilizing both quantitative and qualitative methods to explore factors for success by gathering data from a wide range of stakeholders attempting to triangulate results using a transdisciplinary approach. Multi-stakeholder engagement (key informants, local residents, and visitors) in the tourism development process is essential in identifying opportunities and challenges and appropriate methods to develop, manage, and market sustainable rural tourism as a component of a diversified rural economy.

The goal of this study is to identify, explore, and describe key variables for success in developing sustainable rural tourism. Both quantitative and qualitative methods were employed engaging a transdisciplinary team of faculty from West Virginia University and local stakeholders and organizations in Tucker County, West Virginia. Tucker County, WV was chosen as the study area due to its diversity of rural tourism attractions, active engagement by local stakeholders, opportunities and challenges it faces due to recent infrastructure improvements, and development of a Cultural District Authority (CDA) positioned to guide and support sustainable tourism development. Interviews were conducted with key informants; surveys were administered to local residents, visitors, and local businesses to better understand demographics, perceptions, preferences, and opinions; and design workshops were convened to identify factors for success in developing sustainable tourism in this rural destination.

The first study utilized qualitative research methods which included 30 in-depth semi-structured individual interviews with key informants representing a range of tourism-related organizations involved in destination marketing and management. The second study utilized quantitative research methods to analyze the effect of social capital on resident attitudes toward tourism and support for tourism development based on data collected from 637 local residents. Structural equation modeling and ANOVA were utilized as analysis methods. The third study utilized a transdisciplinary team of West Virginia University faculty employing a mixed methods approach that included key informant interviews; surveys of visitors and residents, an economic impact assessment of local business, and social design workshops to visualize development opportunities including site design and development of a cultural identity.

Results are subdivided into sections. In terms of key informants and destination management findings revealed a clear separation of marketing and management roles and responsibilities with separate organizations created with a primary mission for each role. Destination management challenges included maintaining authenticity and sense of place, staffing and quality personnel, pursuing target markets that minimize negative tourism impact and appreciate the uniqueness of the region, coordination, cooperation, and partnerships between businesspersons, local leadership, and rural tourism entrepreneurs, respect for local residents and positive economic impact for the community, and economic diversification. A destination management framework was developed based on the outcomes of the stakeholder analysis in order to define a structure for the roles and responsibilities for destination marketing and management activities. In addition, the study makes an important contribution to the existing body of literature on resident attitudes toward tourism and support for tourism by revealing the need to consider a common vision and participation in local organizations and informal social groups in addition to long-term planning, protection of community values, growth management, and the social and environmental impacts of tourism in order to secure resident support for tourism development. The transdisciplinary mixed methods study corroborated findings of the destination’s opportunities and challenges through triangulation and allowed for engagement with more people and diverse stakeholders. Corroborated findings included the need for long term planning and managed growth; protecting community values; underutilized natural, cultural, and historic assets; the opportunity to develop nature-based, cultural, and historical attractions; and the need for a common vision and collective identity. This study makes a unique contribution to literature on mixed methods and transdisciplinary sustainable tourism development by incorporating social design into a transdisciplinary rural tourism planning project. The study concludes with recommendations for participatory planning to guide and support sustainable rural tourism development. Based on the results of the research and design activities the CDA adopted four tenets - Protect, Connect, Enhance, and Promote the Culture of Tucker County - and outlined its goals, objectives, and strategies in a performance agenda to guide the CDA’s efforts as it works to achieve its vision of successfully implementing a community-led cultural tourism plan.

Embargo Reason

Publication Pending