Sustainable tourism and entrepreneurship

Tourism development and entrepreneurship development frequently go hand in hand, says Nancy McGehee, associate professor of hospitality and tourism management in the Pamplin College of Business. “Many rural areas in the country and around the world are turning to tourism as a strategy for increasing community wealth. At the same time, community and business leaders are focusing their attention on entrepreneurship development as part of a sound economic plan.” The overlap of these two areas, McGehee points out, is a critical field to study, expand, and support.


Floyd community discussion workshop Nancy McGehee and John McGee lead discussions at the Floyd County, Va., community workshop to gather local ideas and preferences for promoting tourism in the area.

As a lead member on a multidisciplinary research project, McGehee, whose research interests include tourism entrepreneurship and rural tourism development, is currently helping to develop a sustainable tourism strategy for Virginia's Rocky Knob area of the Blue Ridge Parkway. 

The team, which includes Virginia Tech geospatial Extension specialist John McGee and three faculty members from Clemson University, recently received a $266,000 grant from the National Park Service and Blue Ridge Heritage Inc. to help attract new tourists and to better engage the area’s regular visitors. 

The goal, McGehee says, is to make it possible for visitors “to experience the area more fully and make a greater economic impact, while still sustaining what is unique and special about the region.”

In another project, McGehee and Dan Kauffman of the Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center helped assess tourist interest in and willingness to pay for interactive vacations on Tangier Island, Va., that demonstrate how watermen make a living from the Chesapeake Bay. The study’s results revealed “a small but mighty market niche for this type of tourism,” she says. The team developed various recommendations for creating an experiential tourism business for Tangier residents, including marketing strategies and the establishment of a visitor’s center to provide information about food and lodging, blue crabs, and the role of watermen in the environment of the bay.

Since the study, McGehee says, the Tangier Island watermen have successfully implemented experiential tourism for the past two seasons. “The project has gained media attention, including a Wall Street Journal story, which has helped increase the number of visitors participating in experiential tourism on Tangier. What I am most pleased about is that the resulting tourism activity is sustainable and manageable for the community. It hasn’t changed what is unique and special about the island, but it has enhanced, in a small way, the quality of life for the watermen participating in the project.”


A trip on a crabber's boat Fifty-one percent of survey respondents indicated interest in a $15, one-hour trip to pull and bait hard-shell crab pots on a crabber's boat. Nancy McGehee (center) and Margaret Peercy (right), a hospitality and tourism graduate student who worked on the project with her, talk with a waterman.

“Entrepreneurship is currently a very sought-after activity in rural tourism development,” McGehee says, “often because it applies many current community development philosophies. Entrepreneurship harmonizes with the philosophy that problems are best solved by solutions generated from inside the community.”

Sociologists, she says, have referred to this practice as “catalytic development” -- mobilizing local talent and resources to create community-economic development from within. “Further, entrepreneurship can encourage a regional identity when entrepreneurs build on each other’s efforts by starting complementary enterprises.” Entrepreneurship fits in with the “buy local” philosophy and place-based initiatives that have become popular in recent years across a number of industry sectors, including tourism.

McGehee’s research has examined the role of entrepreneurs in tourism and identified different types of entrepreneurs, methods for measuring their activity, and requirements for their success. Though her work looks specifically at U.S.-based initiatives and examples, she says “many of the concepts transcend geopolitical boundaries.”

McGehee has taught courses on tourism management and the sociocultural impacts of tourism that have focused on the interplay between tourism and the environment, politics, community, race/ethnicity, and culture. She serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Travel Research and The Journal of Sustainable Tourism, and she is a member of the Travel and Tourism Research Association.

Also working in the area of sustainable tourism and entrepreneurship is hospitality and tourism management department head Rick Perdue, who is editor of the Journal of Travel Research and president of the International Academy for the Study of Tourism. Perdue has studied sustainable tourism in many parts of the world. His work on sustainable real estate development in resort communities has focused on Colorado, including a study titled “Skiers, Ski Bums, Trust Fund Babies, Migrants, Techies, and Entrepreneurs: The Changing Face of the Colorado Ski Industry.”

  • For more information on this topic, contact Sookhan Ho at (540) 231-5071.

Community forum


Residents looking at a map on a table Stuart, Va.-area residents participate in a mapping exercise held during a community forum led by Nancy McGehee and John McGee. The exercise will help project leaders develop a sustainable tourism strategy for the Rocky Knob area, McGehee says.

Tangier Island


Tangier Island aerial Tangier Island, Va., located in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, is home to some 600 people whose livelihoods depend heavily on the crab industry.

Crabbing heritage


Learning about blue crab Nancy McGehee (second from right) learns more about the blue crab from a Tangier Island resident. A survey completed by McGehee and Dan Kauffman showed that 60 percent of respondents were interested in a $10, one-hour session to learn more about local crabbing heritage from Tangier residents. The survey was conducted to determine demand for specific types of crab-related experiential tourism.


Blue crab Many survey participants indicated that they enjoyed eating blue crab but knew little about the blue crab fishing process.

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