State Capitals should consider spearheading the creation of tourism packages

Updated: May 11

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. Of particularly is the coal country areas of Far Eastern KY, Far Southwestern VA, and Southwestern WV, because of the need to improve the 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 is that the US touring industry is focused upon 2 things.

  1. Point and click onboarding

  2. Luxury travel


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 tourits every need while they are visiting. 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. Creating touring packages with existing logistical support, attractions, and services that are currently present. This could be done within 6 months. Event though these touring packages will not cross state lines, that’s ok, it's a start.

This may create dozens of jobs that would be easily paid for from sales revenue injected by toursts from outside the state.

The value innovation would be on VIP services.

The foundation of the pryamid would be from the SXS trails of the Hatfield-McCoy Trails and Spearhead Trails.

Why?

Because they have growing 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. This offers the most revenue to begin working on creating more tourism experiences.


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, 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.


Finally, the top layers would be eco-tourism and voluntourism. These offer the leat amount of people, but the potential to motivate tourists to relocate to the region is very good!


Below is somewhat of a timeline on how states can spearhead touring packages in Coal Country


1. Greatly help incubators and accelerators that will create guides, transporters, travel specialists, shuttles, and Outfitters.

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 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.

These yearly gains can be helped with collaborations with state authorites , and agency partners. Thankfully, VA is already on the ball with the Office of Outdoor Recreation


3. Long term maintenance of the touring package.

Here the state can hand off a package that they created to a Travel Consortium and 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.

Another example would be helping with improving the trails on public domain land.


4. Create brand new touring packages. Here the cycle starts over again. As more entrepreneurs and organizations see the revenue streams appearing more will get involved with making tours. Then Travel Consortiums will get more involved too, and they will become a great ally. Here they will make adjustments that create longer tours that cross state lines. Eventually the state capitols can downsize their involvement and let the free market take over, and spend taxpayer money on more important things that will improve the tourism experience, like workforce development and training. The revenue sales will pay for the tax money put into the program from the past, without bureaucratic red tape wasting tax money in the future.



How do you do this?

With old traditions and new opportunities.

Old Traditions:

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.

The state capital goes to a Travel Specialists office and hands them the touring package and tells them how they can help. They have to make it as point and click as possible to get them on board and to of course compete with the cruise and Disney trips that are low hanging fruit. The state capitals must be able to 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 is by having the state or a 3rd party be the safety net. This organization is the problem solver with 24 hour service to tourists, and who advocates for the tourists. They talk to hotels, outfitters, and Travel Agents who need help and support in order to get things done on the ground. VIP travel is luxury travel, and luxury travel is how we get the Travel Consortiums interested.


New Opportunities:

Use modern software to streamline the touring packages so that local organizations are on the same page. For example: streamline organizations and tourists for timely communication. Modern technology also 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. It's wise for the county tourism directors to adopt a local Travel Agency who can set up the entire vacation for trip planners.


2 options for payment.

1.The state can take in the payment and pay each party in time.

2. The Travel Specialists or Travel Agent takes in the payment. As stated above, in time Travel Agencies will start to sign up more people and the state can reallocate resources elsewhere.


Appalachia Sustaianble Tourism Collaboration can help by being apart of the saftey net that provides 24 hour service. We can be an advocate for the tourists. We also plan on offering logistical and guide support for tourits within the next 1-4 years.


Here is a pipeline for clarification:


Travel Consortium

Capital investment, networking, and control of Travel Agencies

Guide/Transportor/Shuttle/Outfitter

Grass roots entrepreneurs, some nation wide Outfitters and Guides. State funded employment.


Touring Package

~4-10 day trip that is created by a Travel Consortium, or Travel Agency. States can create these with employment.


Travel Agency

Middle party that facilitates and promotes touring packages and hires out Travel Agents to plan and book trips.

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 have great time and return, invest, or relocate to the area. More jobs and careers are created. More tourism ninches are created like eco-tourism, voluntourism, sports racing.

__


If you look at the 3 states, KY, VA, and WV, at first glance you might thing that WV will be the first to increase the supply of Guides, Transportors, Shuttles, and Outfitters, because they are so focused on tourism development, getting folks to relocate, and they have nearly a 10 year head start with the Hatfield/McCoy Trails.

However Virginia might overtake them. Here is why.


1. Back in 2008 the Southwest Regional Recreation Authority (SRRA) created the Spearhead Trails. Since that time they have expanded into the other outdoor activites like hiking, horseback riding, outdoor sports, and country roads. WV has not expanded.


2. Virginia has a very new Office of Outdoor Recreation. WV does not.


3. Southwest Virginia has the new Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Bristol. This will greatly attract Travel Consortiums who have the capital to make tourism packages, and maybe even a brand new Travel Agency to Bristol that focuses on the region and not Disney or a Cruise.


4. Far Southwest, Virginia has a gem in the Clinch Ranger District of the Jefferson National Forest. WV does not have any USFS lands in the SW.


5. The University of Virginia's College at Wise can be a mediator during this rapid growth of tourism.



Conclusion

In time touring packages will come. State capitals need not take any action on spearheading this. Pikeville, KY with their high quality resting accommodations, the Appalachian Wireless Arena, and quick acces to the Pine Mountain Wildlands Corridor will keep growing and become a hub for tours.

In time the New Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Bristol will become a hub for touring packages, and tourists will push out into Scott, Lee, and Wise counties of far Southwestern VA.

The growing tourism infrastructure in Southwestern West Virginia will continue to improve to the point of Travel Consortiums making investments there.

However, It’s just that it doesn't have to take years and years for this to happen. We are inhibiting our economy greatly. Industrial jobs need their employees to have high quality experiences on the weekends and improved tourism opportunities will do this. Families that are relocating away from the big cities will want something to do, and people to connect with after work and improved tourism opportunities will do this. The creation of Touring packages from state capitals will greatly help give us some momentum.


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 avordable 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 make Central Appalachia even better by motivating our state capital leaders to create high quality tourism packages to capitilize on the enourmis amount of capital that is being spent yearly around the globe today.


If you have any ideas on how to improve tourism in Coal Country of Central Appalachia please let us know.


Thank you for reading.

Travis Stanley

President

Appalachia Sustainable Tourism Collaboration