A Potential Diamond Mine in Your Back Yard

Are you living in a place that you love, a place that attracts visitors? If so, you could be sitting on a logical profit center — the proverbial acres of diamonds in your own back yard. Hospitality is big business and there are wonderful small-scale opportunities to meet and greet guests who come to your part of the world.

After Ronald Winkles retired from the U.S. Army, he decided to settle in the Czech Republic, a country he had fallen in love with as a visitor during his tour of duty. Winkles and his wife bought a vacant 12-room villa near Prague and converted it to a bed and breakfast inn. “The country never has fewer than 18 million tourists a year since its borders first opened in 1990. This is one and a half times the number of people who live in Czech,” says Winkles. The influx of tourists has created plenty of opportunity in this newly entrepreneurial country.

If being a full-time innkeeper is not quite your cup of tea, another option is to run a part-time guest house, sharing your home with visitors. Some of the most successful operations of this sort are those that target a specialized clientele, such as traveling businesswomen, families of hospital patients or visiting academics and artists. Many homeowners in New England, for instance, open their doors to the annual leaf-peeping crowd, earning hundreds — even thousands — of dollars during this short season.

But renting out the spare bedroom is only one possibility. Creating a profit center that is aimed at out-of-town visitors can take many forms — even in very small places. The key, of course, is to genuinely enjoy meeting new people and making them feel at home. It’s also helpful if you feel a sense of pride and enthusiasm about the unique qualities that are part of your hometown.

Here are some other idea starters to consider.

Show off your city. When David Lucia settled in Washington, D.C., after a long career with an international nonprofit association, he decided to pursue his passion for photography. He started doing commercial photography, specializing in photographs of national monuments. His main client for these pictures was a postcard company. Then he added another profit center called Photo Tour of D.C. showing tourists how to get the best shots of our famous landmarks. Since Lucia is multi-lingual, he conducts his tours in several languages, making his tours even more marketable.

Walking tours have long been popular in cities that attract a lot of visitors. When American writer Alan Epstein relocated to Rome, he offered his tour guide services to visiting Americans. On a larger scale, London Walks presents dozens of specialized walks throughout the historic city, with the most popular being Jack the Ripper’s London (conducted at night, of course). Tour guides often are experts or actors who revel in making a real production of the walk.

If this idea appeals to you, consider how you might create a specialized niche. How about a bicycle tour? Or a walk to admire local architecture? Areas with unique attrac-tions such as wineries or a historic neighborhood have obvious opportunities for sharing interesting stories with out-of-towners.

Become a destination. In the days when I used to visit my friend Chris in Connecticut, our favorite pastime was visiting several friendly and creative shopkeepers who had opened businesses in small towns. These businesses were so delightful that people came from great distances to buy unique items. In tiny Riverton, three old houses had been turned into an antique shop, an art gallery and a lunch room. Many days the number of visitors was greater than the population of the town.

This small-town revolution is happening all over the country. After artist Tracy Porter opened her shop in Princeton, Wisconsin, other entrepreneurs renovated sagging buildings and welcomed an influx of visitors who went out of their way to uncover the treasures that they offered.

With the migration of people back to small-town living, this idea has a fresh appeal. In my former hometown, an old church has been resurrected as a charming antique shop and a rambling old house is now a bed and breakfast inn. This new wave of entrepreneurship is creating recycling on a larger scale and attracting visitors to places that would have been drive-throughs in the past.

In many ways, a business that offers hospitality combines the best of several worlds: you can put down roots and still have the enjoyment of meeting a steady stream of new people. So take a look around and see if the spot that you call home might be ripe for the kind of innovation that attracts and welcomes others. There may be a diamond mine waiting to be uncovered right where you live now.

Note: For additional possibilities, check out the tip sheet “More Welcoming Ideas.”

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