PARKERSBURG - Despite the economic downturn of the past few years and rising and falling fuel prices each year, local officals believe local tourism has responded positively for the most part.
The summer season in the Mid-Ohio Valley includes a variety of pubic events, tourism locations and other activities for people living in the local area and those visiting from elsewhere.
Attendance has remained generally positive for events like the area homecoming festivals, fairs and other events, while attractions like Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park continue to see people interested in visiting.
Despite rising and falling gasoline prices over the last few years, local tourism attractions and events have reported positive attendance and are looking forward to a good summer this year.
Matthew Baker recently was named as the new superintendent for Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park. Baker spent the last two years as superintendent of Cooper's Rock State Park near Morgantown and spent the five years prior to that as assistant superintendent at Blennerhassett Island.
From his own experiences, Baker believes increases in fuel costs have actually brought about increases in attendance and usage at the local state parks.
In both locations over the past four years, he said he saw fewer out-of-state visitors making use of the parks, but that was offset by an increased usage by in-state residents and those who live in the immediate region.
Baker believes the "stay-cation" trend of the last several years is continuing.
"Not only are state parks close to home, they offer very economical activities," he said, citing camping as the most common example.
In his last two years at Cooper's Rock, which offers camping, Baker said he saw a lot of return visitors, but also saw a lot of new people who have turned away from long-distance vacations to see what is available in their home territory and are giving it a try.
Teresa Turner, executive director of the Belpre Area Chamber of Commerce which organizes the Belpre Homecoming Festival, said she has been finding that people aren't traveling as far, so they are more interested in finding out what is available to do within their local communities and regions.
"We haven't really noticed anything being down due to gas prices," she said.
This year's Belpre Homecoming will be Aug. 2-4 at Civitan Park in Belpre. Turner said attendance has remained positive for the event, even when the economic downturn was at its worst locally about three years ago. While the general recovery has been slow, Turner is expecting that positive trend to continue this year during the summer tourism season.
"I think it's going to be a fantastic year," she said of this year's homecoming.
Mark Lewis, president of the Greater Parkersburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he hasn't seen any specific trends regarding the impact of fuel prices on local tourism and he doesn't think there is enough data at this point. However, one piece of data involving increased hotel stays in the area does seem to be a positive indicator for the local area.
Lewis said the CVB reported there were 17,174 room nights reported for this May compared to 16,289 for May 2011. Year-to-date, room nights through the end of May were 71,122 compared to 64,944 last year, a 9.51 percent increase year to date.
Since the downturn has been going on for four years, Lewis thinks people are adjusting to the prices. He believes there is a lot of pent-up demand for travel for many people and at this point thinks people are more willing to make travel plans with less concern about fuel costs and similar issues than the past few years.
He is optimistic due to the increased room sales for the local season.
"We're looking forward to a positive tourism season," Lewis said.