Extension@YourService – People-First Tourism Project

— Written By and last updated by Leeann Crump

There are so many things to see and activities to do in beautiful Richmond County! The challenge is in connecting with the right tourists to promote activities in nature, heritage, arts and agro-tourism. A recent but enduring trend in tourism is the increasing number of experiential travelers who crave authenticity. The new Sandhills Network of People-First Tourism hopes to reach these tourists, who tend to use mobile technology and have plenty of money to spend for the right experience.

People-First Tourism is a project of North Carolina State University Tourism Extension, and will serve as a supplement to other tourism efforts ongoing in our community. People-First Tourism is a grassroots entrepreneurship marketplace for buying and selling genuine local tourism experiences. It provides opportunities for storytellers, artists, musicians, food growers and others to share their skills, knowledge and experience, and to create dignified and sustainable livelihoods through tourism.

“P1T is designed to meet tourists’ desire to escape the ‘MacDisney’fied’ experiences offered by mainstream tourism by offering experiences created by locals with need for income and with the desire to speak, to share, to connect,” said P1T Executive Director Duarte Morais, an associate professor and a Tourism Extension Specialist at North Carolina State University. “P1T is almost like a dating web site – pairing up adventurous and socially conscious tourists with charismatic micro-entrepreneurs.”

The process is very simple. A local empowerment agent at the Richmond County Extension Office works with micro-entrepreneurs to develop pricing strategies and services and develop a profile for the website. Travelers find the network through the website: https://www.peoplefirsttourism.com and locates the services provided by the entrepreneur. They communicate through a SMS text message to determine the date and time of the tourism experience and availability. The traveler pays for the experience by credit card and the funds are transferred to the entrepreneur.

We are very excited to have Mari Bennett of LMO Paradise Rentals as our first P1T entrepreneur in our network! She operates the rental service for Hitchcock Creek Blue Trail in Rockingham and has two services listed on the website: a guided paddle for up to four people for $150 and a self-guided trip for $110. The prices include kayaks, life vests, paddles, safety instruction and shuttle service for a driver. These specific services must be booked on the People-First website at: https://www.peoplefirsttourism.com/networks/sandhills_nc . She also continues to offer her usual rentals through the City of Rockingham and her telephone number posted at the creek.

More micro-entrepreneurs are needed for the People-First Sandhills Network in order to draw people to our area for a longer stay. We are currently seeking people who are interested in providing an authentic experience to a traveler, such as a farm stay, art or pottery lessons, a guided hike or photography shoot, or other similar ideas. If the entrepreneur meets the People-First criteria, they will be promoted through the website at no charge.

Richmond County Cooperative Extension is involved in this project because it will help build the social and financial capital of our community. It is truly an example of services offered by extension that meet our goal of “Empowering People –Providing Solutions.” For more information on our local People-First Tourism project contact Susan Kelly at 910-997-8255 or susan_kelly@ncsu.edu .