According to surveys of visitors to the West, natural attractions are the No. 1 tourist draw. Certainly that's the case in Montana. A nine-state project has been set up to help entrepreneurs, land owners and communities capitalize on this interest. The project's first effort is "Nature Tourism Businesses," a half-hour video released this week.
The video's executive producer, MSU Extension community development specialist Dave Sharpe, interviews successful owners of three kinds of nature tourism businesses.
First, we meet folks who make a living providing access to places tourists can't easily reach on their own. Examples are people who take tourists on scenic flights or river-rafting.
Second, we meet people who are expert in some field and who provide guiding and interpretive services. Examples are organizers of bird-watching or photography expeditions and presenters of interpretive programs at natural sites.
And third, we meet people who provide accommodations for tourists who are mainly interested in nature and who want an enjoyable, memorable place to stay near a natural attraction. (Such a place doesn't need to be fancy.) We hear from a couple who run a bed-and-breakfast ranch in Montana, and a man who runs an upscale hotel in Costa Rica that caters to tourists drawn to the region's natural wonders.
The people interviewed agree on several preconditions for success, says Sharpe.
"Most importantly, a person starting out in a tourism-based business has to take the long view. It may take several years to make a profit. Most businesses that fail do so because they're undercapitalized, and the entrepreneur just cannot hang in there for the long haul.
"Then too, the entrepreneur must have a passion for what he or she is doing. If you love to watch birds and you know a lot about birds, you'll be a much more successful guide than if you don't.
"And finally, the entrepreneur needs to provide a high-quality experience. Tourists have high expectations of the experiences they're about to undergo and the accommodations they've booked. They have high expectations of what you're going to provide them. To succeed, you've got to meet or exceed those expectations."
"Nature Tourism Businesses," Video No. 045, is just over 32 minutes long. It may be borrowed from your county or tribal Extension Service office in Montana, or purchased from Extension Publications, P.O. Box 172040, Bozeman MT 59717-2040. The price is $14.95 postpaid. Credit card orders may be phoned to (406) 994-3273 or faxed to 406-994-2050.
Contact: Dave Sharpe, (406) 994-2962, email@example.com