Updated: Jan 12
This blog is the result of writing several other blogs and pondering over the ways to bring in tourists from around the world to our general service area. Particular interest should be focused upon the coal country areas of Far Eastern KY, Far Southwestern VA, and Southwestern WV, because of the need to improve their economies.
To briefly review the market failure.
We have the culture, outdoors, rivers, lakes, National Forests, National Parks, great roads, highway access, interstate access, airport access, and even Amtrak access; but the reason there aren’t any $3,000+ touring packages in coal country and indeed nearly all of Central Appalachia is that the US touring industry is focused upon 2 things.
Point and click onboarding
1. Point and click onboarding.
It takes money to create a touring package. It also takes vendors and suppliers to create the logistical support, anchor points, and places to eat and sleep on trips.
Why would the big time Travel Consortiums make these investments when the well they have been drinking from isn’t going dry? Indeed, we are in the golden age of global travel. There is a tremendous amount of retirement money in many nations that are being spent yearly around the world.
It’s even worse. Home town travel agents in Coal Country and within the region lean heavily on packaged tours to cruise liners and Disney because it’s the easiest onboarding method, and they can make steady income from volume sales. Again, why would these parties get outside of their comfort zone?
2. Luxury Travel
Luxury travel allows consumers to pay a higher price for services, which means more profits for the industry. Coal Country doesn’t have the branding for this, yet. But we believe the potential is there for VIP travel expereinces. Our saying at Appalachia Sustainable Tourism Collaboration is "VIP travel is luxury travel , and luxury travel is how we get the Travel Consortiums interested." Ok, it's not very catchy, but the point is that we must begin to take care of tourists while they are visiting with 24/7 services. You basically have to show the Travel Consortiums the money. "Show me the money." Maybe that is a better phrase to use.
How to correct this market failure:
We recommend that state leaders at the capital level correct this market failure by doing the following:
1. Work with Travel Consortiums by creating touring packages with existing logistical support, attractions, and services that are currently present.
The value innovation would be VIP services.
Because these trails are creating a growing list of logistical services, and rest/refreshment anchor points to build a touring package off of. Indeed, Southwestern West Virginia is starting to become a niche market in this regard.
"The Hatfield-McCoy Trail System welcomed more than 8,500 new riders to the trail system in 2020. More than 80% of total sales were to non-West Virginia residents with both resident and non-resident ridership growing for the year."
Keep in mind that the SXS that are being used can be over $20,000, so these owerns have disposable income.
The next layer would be cultural tourism, followed by nature based tourism. These are for folks who have family members who like the SXS vehicles and the bright lights of Bristol, but they’d prefer something else. It may be hard for locals to believe, but the geography and culture of Central Appalachia is exotic and interesting to someone from the other side of the globe, or even someone from the central plains of North America.
Below is somewhat of a timeline on how states can spearhead touring packages in Coal Country and Central Appalachia.
We must support higher education centers so that they can have classes at the ready every semester. When people call about a class and they get a response that not enough people are signing up and that the whole thing is cancelled we are just waisting money in the long run. You’ve got to spend money to make money.
So, we must support curriculum like the Adventure Tourism Outdoor Recreation program found at Southwest Virginia Community College.
The new Govenor of Virginia, Glenn Youngkin said, “We have to start incubators and accelerators.”
Ideally this involves a lot of grass roots activity.
2. Improve touring packages yearly. As more organizations become part of the network, we must make quick adjustments to keep improving the tourism experience. We must also make quick adjustments by eliminating poor suppliers of travel and replacing them with high quality vendors and suppliers.
3. Long term maintenance of the touring package.
Here the state can hand off a package that they created with aTravel Consortium to the Travel Consortium after they are secure in their profit margins. Then the state can start to focus on another touring package from scratch. This will allow the capitals to shift time and money to other important sectors that need help. For example, working with Agency partners to help keep National Forests campgrounds open longer during the shoulder season.
How do you do this?
With old traditions and new opportunities.
State leaders spearhead this by interacting with organizations (business and nonprofits alike) and seeing if they would like to be a part of a touring package. Start making the package from there. Things must be created at the grassroots level. The states are facilitators not instructors. Have Chambers and County tourism directors be apart of the planning process.
Next the state capitals finalize a touring package and present it to a Travel Consortuim who will make their recommondations. Most importanlty, the state offers an insurance plan that will help seal the deal. This is typically called subsidy.
Next the Travel Consortium will push the package down the supply chain to the Travel Specialists. The state capitals must be able to also recieve feedback from the Travel Specialists who have spent time with familization trips and who get feedback with their Clients and vendors on the ground.
The best way the state capitals can help the Travel Specialist is by offering a safety net (the insurance mentioned above). This organization is the problem solver with 24 hour service to tourists, and who advocates for the tourists. This saftey net will talk to hotels, outfitters, and Travel Agents who need help and support in order to get things done on the ground.
A simpilar approach that could work in tandam would be to pay bonuses to Travel Specialists who sign up tourists with local travel by showing reciepts. This incentive will greatly speed up the sluggish tourism industry in rural areas. These Travel Specialists will still send folks to Disney and to the other side of the world, but they will have staff on hand to send folks to Central Appalachia and may decide to just focus on this if the money is good.
States by-pass the Travel Consortums and create their own 3-6 day touirng package that is booked with state employees.
Modern technology offers the possibility for tourists to by-bass a Travel Agent, but only if the tourists wants to do some of the trip planning themselves.
However, in time they may hand over these tourism pakages to a regional Travel Agency or even independent Travel Agents or Travel Specialists once their business model is focused primarily upon sending folks to their state or region, and not Disney.
For more on this please read this blog: It's wise for the county tourism directors to adopt a local Travel Agency who can set up the entire vacation for trip planners.
Here is a breakdown for clarification:
Capital investment, networking, and control of Travel Agencies
Middle party that facilitates and promotes touring packages and hires out Travel Agents to plan and book trips. These firms have some autonomy.
Travel Specialist or Agent
Person who works with vendors and suppliers and talks directly with trip planners, and works to improve the tourism experience on the ground. Most are employed by a Travel Agency.
(Vendors and Suppliers)
Grass roots entrepreneurs, some nation wide Outfitters and Guides.
~3-10 day packages that are planned out to the letter. States should work with the very top layer (Travel Consortiums) and make these touring packages and offer security and insure profits.
States create their own touring packages and work with independent Travel Agents or Specialists.
Trip Planner and Travel Agent interaction
Online or face to face interaction with people that brings down travel constraints. Agent introduces trip planner to vendors and suppliers of travel (Guides/Transportors/Shuttles/Outfitters).
Tourists who visit Central Appalachia
Foreign dollars are injected into local economies. Toursts return, invest, or relocate to the area. More jobs and careers are created. More tourism ninches are created like eco-tourism, voluntourism, sports racing.
By the time the golden age of global tourism fades away in the next 10-20 years, Central Appalachia will have the most modern high speed internet in the world, and a respectable amount of high paying jobs thanks to the extremely low cost of living index, and affordable homes filled with the loss of the Boomer generation (Central Appalachia has a elderly populaiton in comparison to the rest of the nation). Help us accelerate Central Appalachia's improved economy and standard of living by motivating our state capital leaders to create high quality tourism packages to capitilize on the enormus amount of capital that is being spent yearly around the globe.
If you have any ideas on how to improve tourism in Coal Country of Central Appalachia please let us know.
Thank you for reading.
Appalachia Sustainable Tourism Collaboration