On February 10, 2021, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) released Extending Our Welcome: Trends and Strategies for Tourism in Appalachia, a new report designed to help communities and regions revitalize their economies via tourism. It was produced in partnership with the University of Tennessee – Knoxville and with Collective Impact.
Using qualitative and quantitative research, including publicly available data, surveys administered as part of the research, and on-site visits, the report looks at the history of tourism in Appalachia and makes recommendations for communities looking to employ it as an economic strategy. Though the research was conducted prior to COVID-19, many of these findings remain relevant—despite COVID-19’s impact on the tourism industry and public safety guidelines—and useful for current and future tourism planning.
Extending Our Welcome found that most of Appalachia’s 420 counties experience modest levels of tourism, and often struggle to strengthen this sector due to lack of capacity and resources. To help those areas better establish tourism infrastructure and support more vibrant asset-based economies, the report makes several recommendations, including:
- Embracing major changes in modern tourism, including the role played by technology and the diversity of the current traveling public;
- Educating and training local officials to help them better understand local tourism strategies;
- Connecting communities, especially rural areas, with hands-on technical assistance in tourism planning and hospitality;
- Training rural communities to prepare for and welcome visitors of all backgrounds;
- Practicing good stewardship of public lands, which are the foundation of Appalachian tourism;
- Creating authentic local experiences unique to a community’s natural and cultural assets; and
- Addressing issues, like substance abuse, affecting Appalachia’s front line tourism workforce.
“Tourism has an important role in successful community economic development strategies in the Appalachian Region and will continue to do so,” said ARC Federal Co-Chairman Tim Thomas. “Our Region has much to offer families seeking leisure and recreation, and this important research highlights the challenges and opportunities for Appalachian communities seeking to build their tourism capacity.”
In addition to providing recommendations, which are rooted in survey responses from over 500 visitors to Appalachia and more than 700 regional tourism stakeholders, the report also profiles 12 communities and establishments across eight states as a source of best practices in Appalachia’s current tourism landscape.
- Red Bay, Alabama
- Pikeville, Kentucky
- Berea, Kentucky
- Iuka, Mississippi and the Natchez Trace Parkway
- Jamestown, New York
- Boone, North Carolina
- Coudersport, Pennsylvania
- St. Marys, Pennsylvania
- Marietta, Ohio
- Erwin, Tennessee
- Point Pleasant, West Virginia
- Williamson, West Virginia
“Now more than ever, Appalachian communities have an important opportunity to extend their welcome to visitors,” said Dr. Tim Ezzell of the University of Tennessee – Knoxville, who led the university’s research efforts for this report.
“As COVID subsides, Appalachia’s assets – public lands, outdoor recreation, clean open spaces, and welcoming, authentic communities – offer safe and convenient opportunities for Americans looking to travel again. We hope the lessons and ideas in this report can help Appalachian communities leverage pent-up demand for travel and create opportunities for economic recovery and growth,” he added.
Extending Our Welcome research was conducted by a team from the University of Tennessee Knoxville and Collective Impact, with support and guidance from ARC. ARC is an economic development agency of the federal government and 13 state governments focusing on 420 counties across the Appalachian Region. ARC’s mission is to innovate, partner, and invest to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia to help the Region achieve socioeconomic parity with the nation.
Photo of downtown Red Bay, Alabama is by Brian Stansberry via Wikipedia.