It’s easy to see how big cities like New York City and Los Angeles become major tourist attractions. They’re huge, famous places with lots to do and lots to see. And it’s easy to see why natural wonders like Yellowstone National Park and Niagara Falls draw big crowds, too. But small towns around the United States are reinventing themselves as tourist hotspots, too. How do they do it?
If you build it, they will come
The United States has a unique sports culture. That culture encourages smaller places to become big draws based on the success of their teams – particularly in the case of college sports, which can turn tiny college towns into the most popular destinations in their states.
Not every local college is Alabama or the University of Texas, but some small towns have managed to raise their profiles by partnering with local universities on stadium deals. While it’s easy for these deals to favor the teams (especially in the case of professional teams, which tend to force much more exploitative deals), there’s no denying that a sports upgrade can help a small town or rural county. A new stadium gives a sports team legitimacy. It can help attract new fans and can cause longtime fans to return more often to see the new digs.
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Big-city attractions are tough for small towns to compete with, but when it comes to outdoor attractions, the gap is far narrower. Sure, not every small town’s backyard looks like Yosemite. But it’s hard to find a county in Florida that isn’t beautiful and warm all year round – so each of these places has something to offer!
So in the case of places like Columbia County, Florida, tourist attractions aren’t hard to find – the weather is a draw on its own! Instead, the challenge becomes letting people know about the appeal.
An increasing number of small towns are getting wise to the need for a great tourism department. That includes warm-weather locations like Columbia County talking up their weather, small Northeastern towns bragging about their history and heritage sites, and less famous ski areas pointing out that their mountains are just as fun to ski as the famous resorts, to name just a few examples.
Smaller tourist attractions can also benefit from their convenience. Can a small Jersey Shore town convince you to visit it instead of one of the bigger or more famous locations, like Cape May or Atlantic City? If you’re flying in from California, maybe not. But if you’re from just a few minutes away, maybe you’re ready to be convinced. A beach vacation minutes away? No traffic? Sounds like a great deal.
Small towns and rural counties can’t always draw tourists from the opposite coast or from Europe, but they can become the destination of choice for locals. With smart improvements, a great sales pitch, and a convenient location, a small town can put itself on the map with prospective tourists.