University of Minnesota
Campus and Community header image

U of M seeks Minnesota applicants for tourism project designed to boost small town destination appeal

April 26, 2013

Minnesota small towns and rural places with populations of less than 1,500 are encouraged to apply to a University of Minnesota project kicking off this month aimed at improving a community’s long-term tourism prospects.

The Minnesota Sustainable Tourism Assessment for Small Communities (MSTASC) combines elements of the University Tourism Center’s proven assessment programs with "secret shopper" style visits by participating small town volunteers who evaluate another community’s destination appeal.

A collaboration of the University’s Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships and Tourism Center, MSTASC aims to help community residents and decision makers see their town’s strengths and weaknesses through the eyes of first-time visitors posing as prospective business owners, vacationers, or shoppers.  The project combines visitor impressions with University expertise and SWOT analysis by locals, resulting in a three-way perspective of a community’s tourism potential. 

Five small towns and rural communities from throughout non-metro Minnesota will be chosen to participate.  Rural places not typically regarded as tourism destinations, as well as clusters of two to three communities that share a common sense of place, are also encouraged to apply.

There’s no fee, but participating communities must provide in-kind support toward implementing action steps. MSTASC site visits will take place in July, August and September with community reports presented in January and February of 2014.

"Many of Minnesota’s small and rural communities have a rich cultural heritage and unique assets to share with regional visitors.  Developing those assets can help attract more engaged, longer-staying visitors to the region," says project coordinator Cynthia Messer, a University of Minnesota Extension professor and tourism specialist.  "The Minnesota Sustainable Tourism Assessment for Small Communities is a terrific opportunity for these communities to identify and develop those assets."

"An outsider’s perspective can help city planners see not only what needs to be spruced up, but opportunities for tourism they’ve overlooked or haven’t yet realized," says RSDP statewide director Kathryn Draeger. "MSTASC aims to help communities address and cultivate sustainable tourism opportunities that foster sustainable, regional resilience for generations to come."

Minnesota Sustainable Tourism Assessment for Small Communities project applications are due by noon on May 15, 2013. Application materials are available at

Twin Cities Campus: