Tourism: Group effort needed to expand on successes

Creativity, energy and hard work do, indeed, pay off, and West Virginia Tourism Commissioner Chelsea Ruby should receive a great deal of credit for dedicating hers to bringing more people here to experience Almost Heaven.

According to statewide hotel occupancy figures reported by global hotel research company Smith Travel Research, occupancy in June increased 16.1 percent from June 2017. Revenue has increased 20 percent, year-over-year. Year-to-date figures look good, too, with the first two quarters of 2018 showing occupancy up 11.7 percent and revenue up 14.9 percent.

That is a big deal. In fact, “Today is the start of something extraordinary,” Ruby said.

Tourism is a $4.1 billion industry in our state, supporting 45,000 jobs, and resulting in $527 million in state and local taxes.

As Ruby explained, “Tourism means jobs.”

Those numbers “translate into more West Virginians working in a sector that still has enormous room to expand,” she said.

Did you catch that? Success does not mean it is time to stop. There is still a LOT of work to be done to bring the numbers of visitors into the Mountain State that could truly help our transitioning economy. Ruby has smartly made that work a team effort. It is a responsibility that falls to all of us.

“Advertising works,” Ruby said. “It works even better when you have a great product like our state.”

And those who have already visited agree West Virginia is not only worth a visit, but a return trip. Though she will not have the most recent numbers until the end of this year, Ruby said, historically, 86 percent of our visitors are return visitors.

“My job is to get them here that first time,” she said. “You all do a great job of making sure once we get them here, they keep coming back.”

Whether it be visiting the wonders right here in our home state, about which we sometimes forget, and then using her #AlmostHeaven hashtag to share that experience on social media, or heading to one of the spots handing out Almost Heaven bumper stickers and proudly displaying it on our vehicles, there is a little something we can all do to keep this success going.

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