Rural Tourism and Quality of Life in US and China - Part 1
By Shangzhi Charles Qiu, Research Assistant at the Purdue Tourism & Hospitality Research Center
Concept of Quality of Life (QOL)
QOL has been regarded as a multi-dimensional concept and it has been measured with both subjective (e.g., residents' perception of their life and living environment) and objective (i.e., income, life expectancy) indicators. For example, according to Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress (Stiglitz et al., 2010), QOL should be measured in the following domains: Material living standards, Health, Education, Personal activities including work, Political voice and governance, Social connections and relationships, Environment, and Personal security (safety). OECD developed a QOL Index which includes Income, Jobs, Housing, Health, Work-life balance, Education, Social connections (community), Civic engagement, Environmental quality, Personal security (safety), and Subjective well-being as subdomains. Therefore, the combination of performances of these subdomains constitutes the overall QOL of an individual or a community.
In the literature of tourism, QOL has been studied in terms of impact of tourism experience on tourists' QOL and impact of tourism development on local residents' QOL. And the focus of measurement is different in the two fields. For example, studies on tourists emphasized the connection between satisfaction with tourism services and destination experiences and the satisfaction with life domains such as job, personal health, social life, and material prosperity (Neal, Uysal & Sirgy, 2007). Studies on local residents considered more dimensions of QOL. For example, Andereck and Nyaupane (2010) suggested that local community's QOL should be measured in terms of social life, urbanization issue, change of lifestyle, community pride and awareness, natural/cultural preservation, economic strength, recreation amenities, safety issue and substance abuse.
Rural Tourism in US
The relationship between tourism and QOL has been extensively studied. Some studies focused on the domain of rural tourism and examined how rural tourism development influences QOL of local community or how vacation at rural destinations promote QOL of tourists from urban areas.
In US, tourism has been pursued by many rural communities as a means of rural economic revitalization since 1980s. Rural tourism has been conventionally treated as an alternative economic development tool, a medicine for the economic and sociocultural problems caused by declination of traditional sectors (Gartner, 2005). Study of rural tourism emerged in 1970s. Gunn (1979) suggested a rural tourism development model that identified rural communities as gateways with transportation connections leading to natural resource based attractions. Rural tourism development at early times are tied to high quality natural resources such as mountains for hiking and skiing and water rivers for rafting and fishing. Heritage and cultural tourism development began to emerge after 1995 upon an upsurge in interest for cultural and heritage attractions (Gartner, 2005). Agriculture tourism is another major type of rural tourism that rose out of a need to relocate non-government money to farmers who were struggling to deal with the forces of a global economy (Gartner, 2004).
Tourism development in rural area is associated with quality of life in rural communities (Andereck & Nyaupane, 2010; Crotts & Holland, 1993). For example, Crott and Holland (1993) in their development of objective rural tourism impact indicators, recognized tourism development as a viable tool to improve quality of life of rural residents. At the same time, negative impact of tourism on rural community was also identified in a couple of studies (e.g., McGehee & Andereck, 2004; Long, Perdue, & Allen, 1990). For example, Kim, Uysal and Sirgy (2013) examined how rural tourism affects local residents' satisfaction with particular life domains (material well-being, community well-being, emotional well-being, and health and safety well-being) and overall life satisfaction. They sampled residents in rural communities of the Virginia State that represent four stages of tourism development (i.e., introduction, growth, mature and declination). The study result showed that positive perception of economic impact of rural tourism is associated with satisfaction with material life; positive perception of social impact is associated with satisfaction with community life; positive perception of cultural impact improves emotional well-being; and negative perception of environmental impact leads to lower satisfaction with health and safety.
At the same time, the strength of relationships in these four aspects depends on tourism development stage. For example, the positive relationship between the perceived economic impact and material well-being was strongest in the maturity stage. However, this feeling may quickly turn into a negative perception. The contribution of each life domain to overall life satisfaction is different. The influence of health and safety well-being and community well-being did not significantly affect overall life satisfaction of US residents.
Allen et al., (1990) examined rural residents' satisfaction with seven dimensions of community life. They were public services, economics, environment, medical services, citizen involvement, formal education, and recreation services. They identified that satisfaction with public services, environmental concerns, and opportunities for citizen involvement were most sensitive to changes in tourism development. The findings also suggested that lower to moderate levels of tourism development are beneficial to QOL of rural communities. But as development continues residents' perceptions of QOL tend to take a downward trend.
Different from Kim et al. (2013) and Allen et al., (1990), Crott and Holland (1993) used objective QOL indicators to measure the impact of rural tourism in Florida State. They analyzed the data from Florida Bureau of Economic Statistics about tourism activities of 48 rural counties and compared the QOL indicators among these counties to identify the correlation between tourism activities and QOL conditions. QOL indicators investigated in this study included per capita retail sales, per capita income, effective buying power of median household, percentage of family below poverty line, index of health, recreation and personal services, and number of residents per physician. Results showed that higher level of tourism activities as measured by per capital tourism sales tax is associated with higher level of QOL indicators. The QOL indicators used in this study are primarily in the domain of material life and some are about physical health and access to health and recreation services. They found that rural counties with more health and recreation facilities attracted more tourists, and local residents can enjoy these facilities at low seasons.
Tourism has been regarded as an important factor in increasing tourists' quality of life (Hobson & Dietrich, 1995). Some researchers considered that rural tourism, as a contrasting experience to modern urban life, may become a critical factor of urban residents' quality of life. Urban residents in US take rural tourism out of different motivations. Primary ones include escaping from stressful urban life, seeking tranquility and simplicity in rural area, relaxing away from the ordinary, enjoying peace and quiet, contacting with nature, experiencing authentic rural lifestyle that distinct from urban routine, and learning rural cultures and heritage (e.g., Cai & Li, 2009; Dong et al., 2013; Urry, 2002).
Motivation for rural tourism often relate to pursuit of better quality of life, particularly through the aspects of physical and mental well-being, life satisfaction, work-life balance, education and social connection. For example, Pesonen and Komppula (2010) pointed out that many rural tourists are motivated by the same factors as well-being tourists: they seek relaxation, escape from busy jobs, peace and quiet, sports, and healthy gastronomy. They also identified a well-being segment within rural tourism. Compared to other segments, the well-being segment wants to feel relaxed, value privacy, do not want schedules, like calm atmosphere and want to spend more time outside in nature. Moreover, in tourism literature, quality of life, wellness and well-being are related concepts (Smith & Puczko, 2009). These concepts all contained elements of lifestyle, physical and mental well-being, and relationship with oneself, others and the environment.
Rural Tourism in China
China has sought for rural social and economic regeneration through promotion of rural tourism. It was initiated by Chinese government as one of the tools to address the problems of poverty in China (Su, 2011). Since the "China Rural Tourism Year 1998" introduced by the China National Tourism Administration, a series of rural tourism promotion activities with governmental financial incentives and policy support have been started to facilitate farm diversification into tourism. The "Nong Jia Le" tourism has become the dominant form of rural tourism in China (Hu, 2008). As a distinctive Chinese version of rural tourism, "Nong Jia Le" experience features having fresh food, tasting green vegetables, experiencing traditional courtyard living, doing hard farming work, entertaining farmers' plays, and purchasing indigenous products from farm families (Zou, 2005). According to Zheng and Zhong (2004) and He (2005), there are generally six rural tourism development models in China: Household-run small business, individual farmstead, farmer family plus farmer family, corporation plus farmers, corporation plus community plus farmers, government plus corporation plus farmers.
Ryan, Gu, and Fang (2009) observed that development of rural tourism benefited local resident's quality of life through improvement of material life, preservation of traditional culture, increase of employment, improvement of living environment, and restoration of properties. At the same time that rural tourism provided supplementary income to farmers, it offered opportunities to revitalize local crafts and arts such as paper cutting, wood and stone carving, bamboo weaving, lace-making, folk song and dance, local cuisine recipe, wine-making, and traditional therapy of medicinal herbs. Many traditional properties were restored by government in order to improve the physical environment for tourists. What is more encouraging is that younger people who left hometown to work in urban areas for higher income, have now come back to start small business using technology and managerial skills they learned in urban areas.
Li, Ryan and Cave (2016), through a case study of Qiyunshan village which has transformed from an impoverished community into a major asset in Huangshan's tourism portfolio, examined the negative impact of rural tourism on local residents' quality of life. From the perspective of residents, tourist activities bring negative impact on natural environment and cause problems to local Daoism culture. They also claimed that they hardly receive economic benefit from tourism because the compensation is too low, tourist spending is too small and no dividend from developers. Some resident's farming land had been compulsory purchased and they were unable to find another job. While local residents had serious concerns over the negative impact, local government paid more attention on positive impact and did not think there was severe negative effect. Some tourists perceived that the attraction is of low quality, facilities are poor and other tourists' behaviors are annoying. Thus the dissatisfying experience did not contribute to greater life satisfaction of tourists.
These two contrasting views may reflect the different effects of rural tourism development mode. The positive effects identified by Ryan, Gu, and Fang (2009) are based on the "Nong Jia Le" mode. Local families who used to do farming diversified the income sources. Some of them transited their own lands from primarily agricultural activities to a combination of agriculture and recreation. This is particularly beneficial for communities where the farm lands lack advantage in growing crops. On the other hand, although Qiyunshan is also a rural community, the tourism development mode is different from "Nong Jia Le" but more close to national park resorts. Investment and construction are primarily initiated by government and implemented by corporate developers. Attractions and activities had little relation with farming and rural lifestyle of local people. However, this is not to say the "Nong Jia Le" mode is definitely superior to the other modes. Many "Nong Jia Le" projects did not bring significant positive change to local families due to inappropriate operation. And this mode mainly affects a tiny part of the local population and is difficult to influence the overall QOL of the whole community (Su, 2013).