A glimpse into tourism economical succession in our 5 state service area: KY, NC, TN, VA, WV

Updated: Jan 3

Before reading please get acquainted with our general 112 county 5 state service area.


Our service area was chosen for several reasons.


1. The President and founder has a better understanding of Southwestern VA than in any other area in the Appalachian Mountains of North America.


2. It’s better to have 5 good friends than it is to have 1 best friend. After being in business for nearly a year, West Virginia seems to be the best at being a good friend. More on this later.


3. Political boundaries are arbitrary. If you're Scott County Virginia, then you need to know the resources and attractions in Kingsport, TN. If you’re in Kingsport, then you should know the tourism attractions and resources that are 15 minutes away. Furthermore, Southwestern West Virginia has just as much in common with Far Southwestern Virginia in 1863 as it does today. We greatly reduce our ability to collaborate if we ignore others across state lines.


4. When in Rome, act like a Roman. Just starting out, it is reasonable to speak the same language as the state capitals with regards to the order of tourism districts, 11 in total for this LLC. Being on the same wavelength helps streamline information for trip planners. However, watersheds, tourism niches, and other characteristics that cross political boundaries would be ideal.


As seen in our Entrepreneur Blogs, we are beginning to focus more time on developing the Coal Country areas from the more developed tourism areas found in our region. What is Coal Country to ASTC?

far Eastern Kentucky, far Southwestern Virginia, and Southwestern West Virginia. We believe these areas need the most help with economic rejuvenation.


What are more developed tourism areas in our region?

All of Western NC, and much of Northeastern TN. Although the Appalachian Regional Commision shows distressed counties in Northeastern TN they still have solid hubs to build off of (Knoxville, Kingsport, Bristol, and Johnson City).


The Beckley, and the New River Area of West Virginia and Virginia are a hybrid between less developed and more developled when you compare them to Pigeon Forge, and Boone.


It is important to understand why we focus our attention on tourism in areas outside of Coal Country:


1. It forces ASTC to stay out of an echo chamber. This allows us to see what thriving tourism communities are doing. Thriving areas are great with basic internet marketing. Such as websites and social media.


2. It helps potential tourists with their trip planning. The more things they find in the region, the more likely they will plan a trip. Once again, Coal Country does not need to compete with the established areas, but just compliment them. This is already being done by the organization called Appalachian Highlands. They understand that many people have moved from far Southwestern Virginia and into Northeast TN, so instead of competing across state lines they highlight each other's strengths and network with stakeholders who cross state lines weekly.


3. It forces stakeholders in Coal Country who visit our sites to get outside their echo chamber and see how things are done in areas that are more developed with tourism. The thing that we are the most vexed about is how basic websites are not updated monthly, or even yearly. It actually may cost pennies a day to take care of a website. A website is a gateway to a brand, and a set of values that may create loyal customers and members who may actually decide to relocate here due to recent changes in employer office work habits constraints.

What’s more surprising is how state capital tourism leaders do not seem to facilitate towns to improve their marketing and information. There could be a huge divide between small towns and big capitals, but that is another topic. Help bridge the gap between the federal gov. and small rural towns.

However, the new Wise County, Virginia Tourism site is excellent. Perhaps we are turning a corner.

It's also suprising how state capitals do not correct the market failures of the federal government public domain lands that are adjacent to poor mountain towns. Rangers to help bridge the gap between Rural Towns and Federal Public Domain Lands.


4. Our 5 state service area allows us to see what we call Tourism Economical Succession. For example, the New River Greenbrier Valley tourism district in Southeast West Virginia is far more developed with tourism than Southwest West Virginia (Hatfield-McCoy Mountians), far Eastern Kentucky, and far Southwestern Virginia. However, the New River Greenbrier Valley area does not have the decades of tourism development that the Middle East, TN tourism district has (Knoxville, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, Gatlinburg).


This may have been brought on by at least 4 reasons.

1. The Coal Industry near Beckley and Lewisburg may have begun to decline at an earlier time than in Southwestern West Virginia. Perhaps the 1960s. Or the Coal reserves may have been less plentiful, so leadership had to start to look for more opportunities 25 years prior than in other areas (who started in the 1990s and early 2000s).

2. The New River Gorge offered rich natural resources in the late 1970s (when the Bridge went up) for organizations to capitalize on.

3. Charleston may have not had the tax revenue as other states to invest in nature based tourism like Raligh, Nashville, and Richmond did.

4. The state capital (Charleston) is located in Appalachia, so stakeholders understood the New River Greenbrier Valley area better, and were not distracted with revenue streams from more lucrative locations in their state. Think, Nashville, or the District of Columbia.

Even though Southwest West Virginia is behind in gross revenue and tourism infrastructure (hotels, shopping, airports) than the New River Gorge area, they have a burgeoning off-road service industry. It’s easily ten years ahead of SWVA, and 20+ years ahead of KY. Indeed, KY just created their own Off-Road Tourism Authority in 2021. The Hatfield-McCoy Mountains first started hosting ATV tourists in the year 2000.

To learn more please read this piece, "“West Virginia is rapidly becoming the center of the ATV world,” boasts the Beckley-based Southern West Virginia tourism office."

This read from Outdoor Magizine is good too, "How ATVs Are Reviving a Forgotten Region of Appalachia.


To use an analogy:

There is a saying in forest ecology succession. The big trees get bigger, and the little trees die. This is in relation to how important it is to grow quickly and spread your canopy out so that you get sunlight. Some may ask, “who are the little trees that are at risk of dying in the Hatfield-McCoy Mountains of Southwestern WV? One might say that there is too much funding, resources, and attention going towards ATV trails.

We at ASTC are ok with this focus on ATV trails. Here’s why. The trees that grow fast take in a lot of sunlight (revenue streams), but they are shade intolerant. They can’t grow well in the shade. But the little trees who do survive in the understory are shade tolerant. These trees represent solid business models and strategic plans that are not subsidized and helped out by the government.

In time when the tall shade intolerant trees start to die and fall, there will be huge canopy gaps for shade tolerant trees to grow rapidly. And once these patient trees begin to hog up the sunlight, then we will finally have a diverse and healthy forest, becaues the cohort of trees that have fallen will release their nutrients into the ecosystem.


The point is… the fast growing SxS service industry growing in Southwest WV will be great in the long term, because it’s creating a foundation of places to rest, eat, and explore. Once this foundation grows and expands, then that is when Travel Consortiums will create tourism packages for busy trip planners who want VIP experiences to select from.

Note, we do not want the ATV trail systems in Coal County to one day fall down like a tall tree after so many years, but we do want it to help create a healty economy years from now.

We must promote collaboration to help improve the resources (Guides, Transporters, and Shuttles) that will help make trip planning easier for those who enjoy ATV Trails and other nature based tourism opportunities. This is best achieved by bridging the gap between travel agents and tourists in coal country.

However, we must promote stakeholder engagement and participation so that community members can be a part of the land management process. Those who are apart of the initial planning have skin in the game and will be motivated to see the plan work years after the ribbon cutting is done.

Furthermore, we must obey enivornmental federal and state laws as state authorities create more nature based tourism attractions. This allows for a sustaianble environment, safer conditions for the public, more stakeholder engagement, more recrational opportunties, and improved branding.

It’s exciting and motivating to see a new wave of entrepreneurship in Southwestern West Virginia, and we at ASTC hope to be a part of the process for years to come. Indeed, The president of ASTC, in accordance with the 2-5 year strategic plan signed up with AmeriCorps VISTA and Rural Appalachian Improvement League, Inc to work out of Mullens, WV for an entire year. His focus will be tourism development, and he will work out of the Mullens Opportunity Center.

To learn more please see our 2022 goals, and the press release in early January.


The President recently had the fortune to meet the founder and office of a very important nonprofit founded by Bill Currey, The Coal River Group. The Coal River Group is out of the Tri-County area of Boone, Lincoln, and Kanawha. Travis was able to learn much about the watershed, the stakeholders, the accomplishments, and what's on the horizon for the region.


Before concluding, please consider going to our Tourism website to help us add more organizations to our Outfitter Category so that we can better understand and help trip planners in Coal Country. This allows us to create a database for a Travel Agency to help create tourism pacakges for local and global tourists. Thank you.


Please let us know if you have any ideas to help tourism development in our 5 state service area.


Thank you for reading.


Travis Stanley

Appalachia Sustainable Tourism Collaboration


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Within a year of becoming a social enterprise we at Appalachia Sustainable Tourism Collaboration have found our biggest market failure to be the huge divide that prevents connecting tourism attraction