Last Resort: The Promise and Problem of Tourism In Rural Atlantic Canada


  • Karen Foster Dalhousie University
  • Hannah Main Dalhousie University


This paper examines community attitudes toward tourism as a rural economic development strategy in four small towns in rural regions of the Atlantic Provinces. We view rural tourism through a political economy lens, asking: by what relations of power and historical precedents do communities find themselves with tourism as the best or most obvious local development option? Whose interests are served, and in what ways, when tourism is used to bring economic activity to rural communities? Does tourism bring local communities more or less control over their economic affairs? We find that rural residents’ views toward tourism contain three themes: first, the key to unlocking tourism potential is simply to “market the place,” inclusive of its natural beauty, lifestyle and friendly people, to tourists elsewhere. Secondly, research participants emphasized the centrality of volunteers—and their dwindling numbers and energies—to extant tourism efforts, signalling that the current mode of tourism development is unsustainable, and casting doubt on tourism’s job promises. Finally, tourism is understood not as the best choice, but as the last resort for communities where primary industry is believed to be dead and impossible to revive. We conclude by connecting these community views back into the political economy framework outlined at the beginning, in an effort to understand the historical and socio-political contingencies that bring rural communities to a place where investing in tourism seems to be the best way forward. Keywords: tourism, sustainable rural development, Maritimes, Atlantic Canada, political economy

Author Biographies

Karen Foster, Dalhousie University

Associate Professor, Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology

Hannah Main, Dalhousie University

PhD student, Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology