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Bridging the Gap between Travel Agents and Tourists in Coal Country.

Updated: Feb 8, 2022

After months of working on trying to find the strengths and weaknesses in our 5 state area, ASTC would like to discuss our biggest issue (tourism market failure) for the Coal Country areas (Far Eastern KY, Far Southwestern VA, and Southwestern WV.

Hatfield-McCoy Mountains (all 5 counties in Southwestern WV)

Kentucky Appalachians (not all 15 counties in Eastern KY)

Daniel Boone Country (not all 18 counties in Eastern KY

Heart of Appalachia (all 7 counties in Southwest VA)

There is a lack of services such as Guides, Transporters (chauffeurs), and Shuttles to help bring down constraints for trip planners. Such constraints include, financial, interpersonal and intrapersonal. There is another front to this market failure. Travel Agents look to easy commissions like cruise liners, Disney, and big cash trips elsewhere and show little interest in local tourism. We have Travel Agents who live and work in the above tourism regions who could not tell a trip planner what is going on in a county they grew up in. Indeed, many have no reason to create unique trips from scratch, because the return on investment can't compete with Disney. However, we believe that with Guides, Transporters, and Shuttles (Vendors and Suppliers to a Travel Agent) we can provide a bridge to connect tourists and Travel Agents to help greatly accelerate tourism development in distressed regions as per the ARC. This is a huge market failure because we are limiting our ability to supply the demand. Demand being 2/3rds of the nation’s population in a day's drive, global travelers with lots of retirement money to spend, and the ability to spread out impacts over a 12 month period.

We believe that states should spearhead this market failure correction.

The value innovation of the guided services should be to create high quality tourism experiences that are at VIP levels to include 24 hr service, matched with great planning, activities, and logistical support. These can be full time jobs that support a family. There is the potential to have a 5 day trip that is priced at thousands of dollars that will bring in guests from around the world.

The value innovation of the Travel Agents is to work with the boots on the ground vendors that will help create packaged tours that are executed with excellent reliability in order to enable solid commission sales.

We need a 3rd party to help get these two parties to work with each other. Two options include:

1. State Tourism Corporations or Authorities.

A logical course of action would be for Frankfort, Richmond, or Charleston to create their own Tourism Agency or at the very least work with a Travel Consortium in order to have independent contractors focus on areas (distressed counties as per the ARC). Each Travel Agent would still work for their consortium, but would get work orders from the jurisdiction they work in, or direct calls from potential tourists. Their office could be a resort state park, from home, or they could roam around their jurisdiction. They would need to network with vendors and suppliers and set up familzartion trips so that they can better describe to their Clients what there is to offer.

Looking at the three states seperately:

Far Eastern KY is strong with Elk Hunting, and the growing town of Pikeville, but needs guiding services in the Pine Mountain Wildlands Cooridor.

Far Soutwestern Virginia's is doing well with SXS trails, but needs guiding services in the Clinch Ranger District, its best asset for tourism. Sadly, there is only one Outfitter Guide Permit for the 7 county footprint for the Ranger District.

Southwestern West Virginia actually has a burgeoning, but niche guiding infrastructure that is growing from the Hatfield-McCoy Trails. They should build off of the very close assests that are east of I-77, and the large towns of Huntington and the state capital to the north, and of course the Amtrak stops.

2. Chamber of Commerce or County Level.

We recommend that every county takes in a Travel Agent for their county. The Chamber will promote the Agent on their website (social media), and form a mutual relationship. The name of the Agent would be on brochures and magazines. Here, trip planners who do not have much time can just make a phone call to get things started. After looking through dozens of brochures we were surprised to see how often that guides and other logistical support opportunities were not offered to readers in well developed areas, even in NC, and TN. With a Travel Agent on the brochure, the trip planner will have access who has experienced the services (“fam trip”) and who can book hotels and flights for busy people.

This sounds so simple. However, there is a price to pay. Travel Consortiums would need to spend a great deal of money before they could see a retun on investment. And the vast majority focus on luxuiry tourism. This is not what Coal Coutry is known for. Currenlty, we are in a golden age of global tourism. There is much wealth in Western Civilizations, who have a aging population that is retired. Therefore, the state capitals must put in a good amount of cash to get the Consortiums to turn this way. Once things are mechanized and become streamlined it would be up to the local Travel Agencies and independent Travel Agents to sale the touring packages.

One thing a state could do is make their own Travel Consortium and skip the middle man. This could be through making a Tourism Authority. This would be very expensive. Easly 100 jobs in a manner of years. However, tourism brings in mostly cash from outside the state, which is the best kind of revenue stream. If only one state in Appalachia does this, then they will quickly recieve a return on investment becase they would have no competition. Instead of Luxuary Tourism, think VIP Tourism. Another route would be a state funding a enterprise that would make the travel packages for their state and would have connections with a Travel Consortium.

It's recommended that a state have roughly 5 towns that are hubs to onboards tourists.

For example, Princeton, WV should be the gateway town for Southern WV.

A big time Travel Agency could be in Princeton to provide face to face services.

This is not a location to pick up brochures, but a place to meet your Guide, pick up your tickets to events, pick up the Tricked out Van you rented for the $3,000 touring package you bought 3 months ago from your house on the other side of the planet.

What ASTC will do to help with this market failure.

  1. Promote Tours that are found in our 5 state service area.

  2. Continue to focus upon the Outfitter category on our tourism site. By creating a network it passivley allows trip planners, tourists, and stakeholders to address this market failure.

  3. Continue to find and reach out to Travel Specialists and ask them if they would like to collaborate with tourism packages for Coal Country.

  4. Reach out to Vendors and Suppliers who have boots on the ground with tourists in hopes of them creating a mutual relationship with Travel Agents.

  5. Research and report findings on where growing tourism attractions and logistical support is developing.

  6. Eventually offer guiding services and become a reliable vendor for a Travel Agency.

  7. Help startups create their own organizations. We are on the new West Virginia Business Link site!

  8. Travel to locations as a guest speaker and motivite stakeholders to become Guides or Travel Agents and continue to stress the great potenital with outdoor tourism in Coal Country.

  9. Motivate Higer Education centers to create curiculiam to create more guides and entrepreneurs in the tourism industry. Southwest Virginia Community College has a excellent program called, Adventure Tourism Outdoor Recreation program. This needs to be in KY and WV.

  10. Continue to imprve the Tourism Consulting page in hopes it will motivate more people to get into the tourism industry.

If interested in helping ASTC with this market failure, please contact us to give us better ideas.

Thank you.

Travis Stanley

Appalachia Sustainable Tourism Collaboration

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