Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Retail, Hospitality, and Tourism Management

Major Professor

Ann Fairhurst

Committee Members

Heejin Lim, James Williams, Don Hodges


Promoting local culture and heritage, natural resources, farm-to-table opportunities, and outdoor recreation, more visitors are now travelling to rural communities for these experiences.

The goal for rural areas interested in tourism is to create viable and sustainable tourism through destination-marketing strategies. These strategies require extensive research, appropriate planning, and allocated funding, often managed by a Destination Marketing Organization (DMO). With the creation of the Tennessee Rural Development Task Force, Tennessee’s strategy is to increase economic growth in rural communities.

While there is a need for the DMO to form an alliance with industry stakeholders, lack of incentives and strained relationships can inhibit beneficial collaboration. This study examines the stakeholders’ perceptions of trust in the DMO by exploring the social exchanges DMOs in Tennessee rural areas currently utilize to form alliances while examining the effects on the tourism area. To achieve a deeper understanding of the social exchanges and trust involved in the relationships between DMOs and their industry stakeholders, grounded theory was chosen to explore the social interactions and study the relationships. Through interviews, participants were able to share their unique experiences and points of view to identify patterns and key themes of the social exchanges.

This study identifies the grounded theory of commitment to change stands between the realization of the need to expand social benefits for the community and identifying the appropriate strategies needed to support the development of rural tourism. When DMOs and stakeholders decide to expand benefits, they engage in social exchanges in which the DMO is perceived as trustworthy; dependable and reliable. When stakeholders commit to change, trust in the DMO and the vision rural tourism development intensifies. This results in an inclusive community identity that encompasses a brand image, a community self, and a sense of belongingness, for locals and non-locals alike. Committing to change depicts the social processes between DMOs and their stakeholders in rural Tennessee tourism areas. The social process provisions allow for the theory to be utilized to guide DMOs in formulating strategies that strengthen the alliances and build trust for successful rural development.

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