Updated: Feb 7, 2022
Coal Country defined as Far Southeastern KY, Far SWVA, and Southwestern WV.
One of our 2022 goals is to be an Entrepreneur Incubator. We appreciate any feedback as we try to produce ideas for others to run with.
Provide professional guiding services and help tourists connect with the people, culture, and landscape in hopes of creating more return visits, referrals, and more stakeholders.
Outfitter Guide (OG)
As an OG, you have the potential to expand upon the “Transporter” model and help tourists learn about cultural and natural resources while providing safety and confidence in various settings. You can become a Preferred Supplier for a Travel Agency.
When the President of Appalachia Sustainable Tourism Collaboration (ASTC) completed his 2020 summer internship with the Clinch Ranger District he asked the District Ranger what they needed the most from stakeholders, and she said Guides who can better help visitors understand and connect with the land. For more context, here is a quote from a radio IQ story in 2019,
Michelle Davalos is Clinch District Ranger of the U.S. Forest Service, which is key to expansion of outdoor recreation. Much of what this area is, is National Forest. And it's located about as far away from urban areas as you can get. “It’s a hidden gem.” She says. “There’s so many beautiful places to see."
Let's look at how ASTC defines the function of an OG.
At one end of the spectrum the OG meets the Client at the trailhead. There are no shuttle services offered. The Clients are on their own with parking, food, water, batteries, etc. You do all of your marketing and recruiting.
This offers the least amount of overhead.
Roughly, in the middle of the spectrum the OG is also a Transporter who drives their Clients up to the trail head and then provides guided services on foot. The OG can be outsourced by Travel Specialists.
At another end of the spectrum, an OG will also be a Travel Specialist who collaborates with Clients and vendors when planning a single day event or a multi-day vacation. This planning can be highly detailed (hour to hour) or very spontaneous. In this model the OG is the chauffeur, and must be available 24/7. The OG has an inventory of gear to help their Clients have a great time. The tickets to the theater are taken care of. The SXS is picked up and on the trailer. The backup plan in case of rain is taken care of.
How do you find your niche within this market?
B2C (Business to Consumers).
With this model you market directly to the potential tourists (Travel Specialist Hat). This might be the best way to start because you must develop a good brand so that other organizations will outsource to you.
B2B (Business to Business).
Here you are being outsourced by a third party, an Outfitter, travel agent; a chamber of commerce; or a county tourism director. Here you will share some of the profits with others, and you will have less decision making involved with the outings.
A Travel Specialist can make up a trip itinerary for their clients and here is where you come in to execute the plan with your Guiding skills.
Hotels and other destinations will use your services to help tourists sign up for a weekend at their retreat.
Unlike 20 years ago, communications have greatly improved to make this model work. There are online forms clients can complete. You can zoom together to help plan the trip. Also Business Management Information Systems will enable you to quickly network and develop your brand in weeks, not years.
Create a market space that is found in the day to day, and even hour to hour void that prevents tourists from going on epic trips, while providing V.I.P. services that will connect your Clients with the culture, nature, and prestigious stakeholders.
Is there a model already out there?
There are a fair amount of OG models in our 5 state area; however they are localized in specific areas. See our Guide page for examples. We would like to see more in the Coal Country areas in order to diversify the economy and capitalize on the rich outdoor natural resources.
As of the late summer of 2020, there is only one OG organization that has a Guiding Permit in the Clinch Ranger District of the Jefferson National Forest. Think about that. There are 6 counties in VA and KY right there, but only one organization with a guiding permit! It’s shocking. If interested in becoming a guide on federal land, please read our Primer.
You will need the same skills as the Transporter, but more. Ideally, interpersonal skills. Here you will need to be able to read the attitudes of your Clients. Furthermore, you will need to have soft skills as you work with others to create vacations. These soft skills can help you create VIP experiences when you allow your clients to network with stakeholders.
You will need to wear many hats. Transporter, Guide, Travel Specialist, and Local.
You should be a good hiker and even a rucker (carry lots of gear).
You should be a good swimmer if you do anything close to water.
You should have good knowledge on the equipment that your Client plans on bringing along or renting.
You should know about general foot care and hiking hygiene and first aid.
You should be able to read maps well and use various phone apps as back up plans.
You should have a fundamental knowledge of the Floral and Fauna.
You should know the history of the landscape. Furthermore, you should know about Natural Resource Law and current events in this subject.
Get training in Leave No Trace and other sustainable tourism platforms so that you can talk the talk and walk the walk.
You do not need to have interpretive skills, but it helps. Interpretive guides do not bring forth infotainment, but instead find a theme to help their clients better connect with the landscape and people.
The Chief aim of interpretation is not instruction, but provocation.
Interpretation should aim to present a whole rather than a part and must address itself to the whole rather than any phase.
Branding and Marketing
We recommend a strong social media campaign a few months before you get started.
It is critical that potential tourists learn about your organization. You could be the catalyst that helps them pull the trigger on their trip.
Call up and write emails to travel agencies to come to your neck of the woods to operate. You will be the Transporter and the OG they need. Make this region profitable to them and they will come.
Get on LinkedIn and create a great profile. This shows up really well on Google searches.
Pay dues to the Chamber of Commerce that is near the area you will work in, and pay to have your information on their sites. The same goes for the individual county tourism pages. Unlike 25 years ago, your branding and marketing could take months not years to develop!
You will need to check with the federal, state, county, and private organization you wish to take Clients on before rendering services. Here is a primer for the US National Forests.
We also have a page on Agency Parnters.
You should like to connect with people and be a servant to others. A good understanding of tourism and nature based tourism is not that important, but helpful. You do not need to be a school trained interpreter, but please learn the fundamentals.
Read over our 4 phases of the tourism experience to see if you are motivated enough.
ASTC recommends starting at least a single member LLC and testing the waters first.
Start up costs are highly variable. If you just meet clients at the trailhead it could just be hundreds of dollars! You could outsource services by hiring a local organization to drive you and your guests around. However, if you buy a rig and lots of gear, you could reach $100,000+ in a hurry.
This is not known. There are many variables. It all depends on how much you research to discover the demand, and how much you promise to deliver. The idea is to carve out a niche that you are happy with.
Take your excellent website, some of your gear, permits, insurance, and standard operation procedures to various organizations and solidify your relationship with them.
See the Transporter Blog for more ideas and notes.
Day to Day Routine
Be in the woods and navigate clients along the trails, rivers and lakes.
You will need to conduct “fam” outings by yourself to get to know a part of your area of operations.
Have zoom meetings with Travel Specialists and the like to sell the area you will operate out of.
Have a great calendar system to let others know where you will be and when you will offer guiding.
Have an excellent communication set up. This is easy with smartphones. For good measure have some walkie talkies to give to tourists before departing into the woods or the urban jungle.
You offer more risk and liability for the Outfitter, and other organizations. Do not be surprised if they do not want to outsource to you.
Environment. If you are helping tourists make connections to the areas they visit, then they might develop a greater appreciation for natural resource conservation. This may create more stakeholders who volunteer their time. You will be able to talk about issues and policy that will better inform your clients to become stakeholders. Also, the lifelong impression you leave on tourists may create careers in preservation or resource conservation. Please read this article about "Why Tour Guides are Frontline Ambassadors in Tourism's Fight Against the Climate Crisis."
Economy. Your efforts will help organizations work more efficiently at attracting, onboarding, and providing tourism services. The tourism experience will be improved which will create positive reviews and return visits. You have the potential to bring in big ticket touring packages to the Coal Country area. You can also motivate others to copy your model if you are successful.
Society. You will help rural Appalachia diversify their economies with tourism, and create more local jobs and connect tourists to the culture and landscape. You have a greater opportunity to expand and create jobs yourself.
You will be removing social, financial, and intrapersonal constraints (confidence) by helping others get into the sticks. This will help tourists make connections with the land and new people. These connections may motivate tourists to become stakeholders themselves.
How ASTC can help you with your new organization? (no cost)
We can help you with general questions on starting up a LLC, and specific questions and concerns about this model.
We have a list of Global Travel Networking that can help you connect with trip advisors and travel agents outside our region.
We have a general trip planning list for you to look over to find international firms
We have a local trip planning list for you to network with local organizations.
We have a list of Tourism Consulting that can help you with marketing and branding.
We have an Entrepreneur Incubator list of regional organizations that can help you get started.
You can interact and help trip planners on ASTC’s Tourist sub-forum.
We can start your own group on ASTC to better market yourself.
You can promote your organization with several of our blog topics.
You can also put the trip packets that you have created on various calendars, and network with Travel Specialists.
We can put up job offerings that you need filled.
You can also look for loan and grant opportunities
We have an Entrepreneur Incubator Information and Calendar page to look over.
There is great potential with becoming a high quality OG in the Coal Country region of our 5 state service area.
Like the Transporter Model, your branding, marketing, and reliability will be very important to its success. Be patient with Coal Country, but you can be the best Guide once things get rolling.
Please offer us any feedback and join our ASTC Entrepreneur Incubator thread to discuss this blog.
Appalachia Sustainable Tourism Collaboration