Updated: Mar 25
Appalachia Sustainable Tourism Collaboration, considers Southern West Virginia to be divided into two regions:
Hatfield-McCoy Mountains. (Boone, Lincoln, Logan, Mingo, and Wayne Counties)
New River-Greenbrier Valley. (Fayette, Greenbrier, McDowell, Mercer, Monroe, Raleigh, Summers, and Wyoming Counties).
On the outskirts are very large metro areas, such as Ashland/Huntington , Charleston, and Roanoke, VA.
Much of the critical things below also apply to other counties in West Virginia, far Eastern KY, and far Southwestern VA.
Entrepreneur Incubation and Acceleration
Lack of direct funding for Entrepreneurs in the trenches
It’s critical when a small enterprise needs to match the dollar amount to receive a grant, but the banks in the area will not even offer a loan, so they get $0.00 instead of $40,000.
We read it all of the time in the headlines about the cash funding for tourism, but it's not flowing to where it needs to go. It’s flowing towards organizations who specialize in grant writing and those with connections.
What would be grand would be an Entrepreneur bank. You can take out cash loans or gear loans. If your business folds, then the gear is collected for another entrepreneur to use.
Furthermore, some of these small enterprises are practically running a 501(c)(3), because the towns they are located in are on life support, but they pay taxes just like McDonald’s does.
The West Virginia Jumpstart Savings Program
2. The Exodus of Youth
The two biggest resources for most communities are culture and youth, and southern WV has been losing both. The youth of Southern WV were told by many to grow up and get an education and move away.
We recommend that students who are in Entrepreneurial and even Business majors in Higher Education spend some of their Junior year and much of their Senior year working in the trenches with an organization that promotes or offers tourism services. Even better, they spend the time creating their own business. Imagine how motivated Higher Education would be to help their students in this endeavor? For those who are interested in certifications, or a 2 year degree, we recommend this model from Southwest Virginia Community College. Community College to Improve Outdoor Tourism Services in Coal Country.
Lastly, we recommend that we improve Apprenticeships to help connect the youth to tourism careers.
3. Chambers of Commerce, Tourism Development Organizations, and Tourism Authorities
The tax money spent on this sometimes offers a poor return on investment. The critical thing is that those who are getting paid to support tourism are getting paid no matter how well things go. So why work harder? Why return the emails of new enterprises who are motivated to bring in tourists to the area? It’s just more work.
We recommend offering an incentive. Make it so that much of their pay is directly related to tax revenue streams from tourism. We need to connect higher education to these institutions. Students should sit on the board of a Chamber of Commerce or the like. They will learn a lot, and see what the market failures are. Give them some skin (equity) in the game to motivate them to stay. We need fresh voices asking questions, not folks who are waiting for retirement.
Good Ol’Boy Rules
Back in the day, (75 years ago) Appalachia was much more family (Aunts/Uncles/Cousins) orientated and resembled a collectivistic culture. Non-Coal mining jobs have always been scarce, so these jobs are much more likely to go to family and friends. Nepotism has been exacerbated by the large recession over the last 25 years, because the supply for great jobs and careers have greatly decreased. Oftentimes your reference sheet will be far more important than your resume. What’s critical is that those without connections will take their skills to the big city and leave Southern WV. Again, we need to connect more high school students and higher education students to the communities. Not so much as leaders, but a way to connect them to others who share the same vision for tourism.
5. Lack of Policy Formation Empowerment
When Coal was King, local citizens had little empowerment. Generations ago many had no clue what was coming their way when they signed away their subsurface mineral rights.
We must make sure that this doesn't happen again as the Tourism Service Industry continues to create more revenue streams. Helping locals and tourists learn about policy formation should be heavily promoted by all those who are paid to help community revitalization.
Here is some good news.
“The final version reduced leases to 40 years as opposed to 50 and public hearings, in the county where the state park is located, are now required before any privately funded facilities can be built on state park lands.”
Access to Information
6. Collaboration with states, counties, and towns
Arbitrary and capricious political lines are market failures for sure. Kentucky and West Virginia are not separated by 13,000 foot mountain peaks, and 2 different languages.
Withholding information on your tourism trip planning sites only hurts you. If a town across the river has a great hotel, and you don’t even have one, then please put that down on your website. You must create a path of bread crumbs for those who are traveling by car.
7. Lack of High Speed Internet and Cell-phone coverage
We all know that this should have been done 20+ years ago, but then we couldn’t be critical about how horrible the 2000-2010 decade was for Coal Country. And now when Labor has the most leverage they’ve ever sence post WW2, and with a cost of living index below 75 in many areas, now the sense of urgency is finally happening.
Here is some good news:
VIP Travel is taking way too long to manifest
VIP travel is the same as Luxuary travel if the price tag matches
8. Lack of Vendors and Suppliers for Independent Travel Agents to work with
These vendors and suppliers are very small business models that are very easy to start up.
For a better understanding, please read this blog about bridging the gap between Travel Agents and Tourists.
See our Outfitters category to find other ways to help tourists connect to Southern WV.
9. Travel agencies do not focus on bringing tourists to Southern WV
Independent Travel Agents tend to focus on very low hanging fruit such as Disney and Cruise liners. Independent Travel Agents represent very small business operations that are easy to start up. They are largely influenced by Travel Agencies who in turn are influenced by Travel Consortiums.
See our Travel Specialists page to find local organizations who one day may offer 5 day touring packages to Southern WV.
10. Lack of Travel Consortium presence
It's a what comes first, the chicken or egg. We believe that Travel is pushed down from the top. At the top are the Travel Consortiums and at the bottom are the Independent Travel Agents (in the middle are the many Travel Agencies). The possible reasons are that Travel Consortiums are doing very well selling travel to other locations on the planet. That is exactly why we promote students to learn about international business on our Higher Education page.
What is critical is that Charleston has not put enough blood in the water to get the Travel Consortiums to look to Southern WV.
One thing Charleston could do is just create their own Travel Consortium, and then each tourist district has their own Travel Agency, and each county has maybe 5-10 independent Travel Agents.
If you have any critical things about Southern WV, please let us know and we may update this list our make new additions.
Thank you for reading.
Appalachia Sustainable Tourism Collaboration