Southwest Virginia tourism needs regional teamwork, UVa-Wise student finds

A research project conducted by a student at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise reveals that Southwest Virginia localities have a better chance of cultivating a thriving tourism industry by working in tandem instead of each county venturing out on its own.

Todd Galyean, who completed his Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Government in December, spent several months looking at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) of developing tourism businesses in the region. SWOT is a standard method used to evaluate the viability of a business venture or a variety of proposals. Galyean, a Big Stone Gap resident, applied SWOT to tourism ventures, specifically to identify any factors that would help or hinder that type of business in the region.

Galyean began his work based on the theme of the Blueprint for Entrepreneurial Growth, a plan developed by economic development officials and business leaders to promote growth and development in Southwest Virginia. He studied asset based initiatives and found that tourism has many beneficial factors in its favor.

“Tourism is a great way to diversify the economy," Galyean said. “There are less barriers to enter those fields, and more people can get involved. It is a great way to build up an economy, especially with decreases in the coal industry.”

Galyean, who served as editor of the Highland Cavalier, took more of qualitative approach to his research, which brought the full scope of tourism possibilities into perspective. He focused on some tourism possibilities that had promise.

“There were good tourism movements on the ground level,” he said. “Programs like the Spearhead Trails, Clinch River Initiative, Artists and Trails of Southwest Virginia and others are good examples of viable initiatives.”

Tourism-based companies in Abingdon and the Tricities have already established solid infrastructure, Galyean found.

“They already have popular tourism draws, so I looked at the coalfield region to find ways that Southwest Virginia can complement the already established tourism in Washington County and other localities,” Galyean said. “One thing that could work is promoting tourism in the coalfield area as daytrip destinations.”

Galyean’s research showed that the coalfields’ location away from Interstate 81 is difficult to overcome. However, identifying and developing niche tourism could work.

“The research showed that we could focus on a lot of non-traditional tourism such as rental cabins,” he said. “A trail of beds and breakfast where people could go spend a day or two at different ones in the area could be a draw.”

Southwest Virginia could successfully market tourism if it is focused on outdoor recreation or the history of the coal industry, Galyean found.

“People really like recreational tourism, but the region has to work together if it is going to get things going,” Galyean said. “It needs to work together as a region, especially when it comes to planning events.”

The research left Galyean encouraged about the future of tourism.

“Everyone will see different opportunities when looking at tourism in the coalfields,” he said. “The culture of entrepreneurialism that is going on now is encouraging. We need to look at our assets in a different light and see that we do have opportunities to turn tourism into a business.”