Many view tourism as a tool for community development. Especially in the rural areas experiencing economic hardships, tourism often is considered an instrument for revitalization of a local economy helping to improve quality of life and protect natural and cultural resources.
However, many researchers have raised concerns about an overly optimistic view by asserting that tourism development inevitably affects the corresponding community. Empirical studies suggest that development of tourism brings environmental, sociocultural, and economic changes to the community where it is developed. Thus, it is important that planners look at the attitudes of local people towards tourism development in their community before an actual development takes place.
The conceptual basis of this study is development and change theory and empirical findings of tourism impact research. This study provides information to assist in understanding questions related to the rural communities' tourism planning process in iv a development context, and residents' perceptions of the impact of tourism and its further development.
A self-administered mail-back survey was administered to see how the residents of Brewster County, Texas perceive tourism development in the region. Considering the 43% of the Hispanic population in the area, both English and Spanish versions of the questionnaires were sent to the possible respondents. The overall response rate was 37% after two rounds of survey administered during January and February of 2006.
The structural model confirmed that people's value orientation regarding nature was an important variable that explained residents' community attachment, which influenced their attitudes toward tourism through attitudes toward local participation. The results indicated that residents' values were oriented toward nature and that they were highly attached to their communities. In addition, their tourism attitudes were varied based on the types of tourism impacts they were expecting. Although they were supportive of tourism related development, they felt that certain types of tourism development were more appropriate for their community. Specifically, "medium impact" tourism development were perceived to be desirable for the northern part of the region, whereas low impact development options were perceived to be more acceptable for the southern part of the region by their residents.