Tourist bureau gears for season

PARKERSBURG – For a local tourism official, the winter season is a time to plant seeds for new growth in spring and summer.

That is how Mark Lewis, president and CEO of the Greater Parkersburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, describes the winter period at the first of the new year, with a big focus on preparation for the coming tourism season and working to get the word out about what the Mid-Ohio Valley has to offer.

The local bureau participated in six travel shows this season, including Ohio, Illinois, Florida, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. Through a co-op program organized by the West Virginia Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus, the Parkersburg bureau has joined its efforts with other destination-marketing organizations to promote the state as a whole, Lewis said.

Information about sites, attractions, events and activities in the Parkersburg area has been distributed to thousands of show attendees. The primary audience included individuals and families seeking information on vacations or short getaways, he said.

Lewis said the first few months of the year are the busiest time for the local bureau in terms of travel shows. Local representatives attended four shows in January, including Columbus, Cincinnati, Lakeland, Fla., and Chicago. The other two shows took place during March in Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.

The Parkersburg bureau attends shows as an individual bureau and with others as part of the state association, working with other bureaus throughout West Virginia to pool personnel and resources to provide more coverage, Lewis said.

“Most bureaus don’t have the ability or the budget to get out and do all of these travel shows, so we co-op together and we have members from the bureau association and various bureaus around the state that will attend these and work the booth for us,” he said.

The state association also closely works with the West Virginia Division of Tourism to market the state and its attractions.

Lewis said the travel show participation is a method among several that the bureau uses to promote local tourism.

“It gives us the opportunity to talk to people one-on-one and find out – real conversations with real potential visitors – what they’re looking for. It gives us the opportunity to pitch what we have here in the greater Parkersburg area,” he said.

“I think it is invaluable to be able to go out to these shows,” Lewis said.

“These are consumer shows,” he said. “When you’re there in the booth, these are literally potential visitors to your area – mothers, dads, families – that are going around through the show.”

Looking ahead at this year, Lewis said the bureau will be working more closely with the area fairs and festivals. He wants to set up a bureau booth at several of the fairs this year to survey visitors and find out more about what brings them to those events and ways to increase attendance.

He also wants to promote the Point Park Concert Series which kicked off with great success last summer. Organizers will be expanding that series and looking at other ways to improve it and Lewis wants the bureau to help. In another downtown activity, the popular Taste of Parkersburg will be moving forward on the calendar from September to late May. Lewis wants the bureau to help with that as well.

“We’re going to be working with them to try and promote that. I think that has real potential for even more growth than we’ve seen in recent years,” he said of the event.