I have worked offering both outfitted hunts and leases since 2014. I can speak on this subject matter regarding Iowa only although I have also done hunts and my own leases in Kansas and subleased in Illinois once. For the sake of the post, I will tie it all into Iowa deer hunting.
The reason there is a market for outfitted hunts is simply due to physical distance and time constraints that many non-residents have simply by living too far away and/or by being too busy. The amount of time and effort that goes into these hunts can be done by non-residents on their own leases, but most people are not able or are unwilling to devote such time and effort when money can be used to produce the hunting opportunity for them. People do choose leasing options, but most have too many irons in the fire or too little time. How much it is worth is relative to both the outfitter and the individual seeking the hunt or the lease. Having been on both sides, there are clear benefits to each as well as downfalls. I will go into some detail below.
LEASES - Give & Take
Being able to have your own lease almost turns you into a DIY hunter. Instead of paying for a weekly or bi-weekly-type rate for access, you are getting the lease for the whole season more times than not. However, I do know that some are getting seasonal leases as well. Yet, having the elongated time slot with your access has value if you can use it. Otherwise, it is a false selling point. Being able to setup the lease as you see fit is valuable because, let's be honest, most hunters are type A men who trust themselves but not others when it comes to setting up a farm. So, if that control is what you want, leasing is the way to go. Some leases come in at a very high price point which would require either additional hunters covering costs or would require an outfitter to lease it so that the ground can be afforded. Nonetheless, leases are as close to a DIY hunt as you can get, especially if it is a "seasonal lease". If you end up leasing, be prepared to deal with a potentially annoying or disruptive farmer who doesn't care about your hunting. If you end up leasing, be prepared for potentially nosy neighbors and/or landowners who could walk the farm whenever you're not there. There is definitely a price you'll pay by going the leasing route, and it varies severely. Of course, you could always strike gold with a good landowner, good neighbors, and a good farmer, but I've learned that unicorns don't exist.
OUTFITTED HUNTS - Give & Take
Being able to rely on someone else to produce the hunting opportunity is simpler, roughly same cost as leasing (maybe more, maybe less), and a logistics improvement. The workload and mental stress from leasing is tough to handle if you're not a resident. Having an outfitter have the stands hung, the knowledge and resource of his experience, is something leasing just simply can't provide across the board. Yet, outfitters (including me) have grown their expertise while also identifying value of effort toward a hunt. Go hang a lot of stands because you do not know where to go? Nope, that outfitter knows a few hot spots already that takes years to learn and prove. The knowledge that outfitter has about his local area and the deer makes outfitting far more valuable than leasing, in my humble opinion, but the outfitter (including myself) is not always right. There is never a guarantee that a "shooter" will appear. Yet, having someone with local knowledge and experience to provide guidance can truly help improve the odds of the hunt being successful.
There are a lot of debatable topics of comparison between leases and outfitted hunts, but there is a reason I stopped doing leases and started doing hunts. I could provide a better opportunity to my "customers" with hunts versus leases, and the more fully guided my hunts have been, the better their odds of success have been. This is one reason we are going back to fully guided hunts after 4 years of strictly semi-guided and DIY access. Yes, there is an obvious control element that makes our hunts better than what our leases would be, but some people want that control themselves versus relinquishing it to the outfitter. To each their own, both are acceptable.
If you ever have any questions as to this topic, please reach out directly. I'd be happy to explain the pro's and con's to help you decide on your next Southern Iowa hunt, regardless if it is through me or another outfitter.