Rural Tourism Research: Linking North Carolina and Senegal

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McKenzie Herlihy, an undergraduate student at North Carolina State University, took her knowledge of tourism development and an eagerness to learn about a new culture all the way across the ocean to Dindefelo, Senegal. She was then able to share her findings from the intensive two-week field study and describe the connections with rural tourism in the US at a nation-wide tourism conference last month.

campement huts

Local workers rethatching the roof of campement huts.

It started with Alyssa Campbell, an NC State alumna and Peace Corps Volunteer currently serving in Senegal, who reached out to McKenzie asking if she would be interested in working with local Senegalese on a community tourism plan. The project was working with tourism partners there, mainly with new initiative on grass-hut hotels called campements in rural areas.

“The issue is that there are a lot of great resources, but the community is still learning how to promote themselves and get tourists to their area,” McKenzie explains.

Employing a lived-experience method (also called participant observation) for her research, she traveled to Dindefelo, a rural village about 14 hours inland from the closest airport in Dakar, and stayed in each of the three campements as if she were a tourist. Along with staying at the huts and participating in nearby tourism activities, she took time to speak with the owners about tourism. Taking all the information from her experience and interviews, she presented to the campement owners on the strengths and weaknesses she was able to identify, including recommendations on how to best use resources and advertise to target audiences. This included a workshop with participants from the Jane Goodall Institute and other Peace Corps Volunteers.

Workshop with local tourism partners

Workshop with local tourism partners in Dindefelo, Senegal.

McKenzie’s three main findings were presented to the group: lack of transportation and accessibility in the area, underdeveloped community partnerships, and unidentified target markets that could fill gaps. One of her recommendations was the importance of just knowing what you have to offer and how you differentiate and communicating that to community partners and potential visitors. She explains, “having someone consult from the outside by going in to see what is there can help the community discover and effectively use what they have.”

Upon her return, she used her experience to complete an independent study project as well as presenting a poster at the South Eastern Tourism Association Conference/Southeast Tourism Society conference last month in Little Rock, Arkansas. She used her findings from Senegal and related it to rural tourism here in the US.

“They deal with different things in Africa because of the culture, but they face a lot of the same issues we find in rural tourism here,” says McKenzie. The conference also allowed her to critically look at using a lived-experience method for tourism research; “It won’t necessarily work in all cases, but it is potentially a useful tool for communities that are looking to start tourism business or have opportunities for tourism activities, but don’t know how to effectively leverage them.”

McKenzie Herlihy

McKenzie Herlihy presenting a poster at a tourism conference last month in Little Rock, Arkansas about the rural tourism project in Senegal.