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Visitors Bureau outlines pandemic effect on Wood County tourism, revenue

Mark Lewis, president and CEO of the Greater Parkersburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, appeared before the Wood County Commission on Thursday to discuss the decline in the hotel/motel tax over the last year as a result of the pandemic and plans on how to market the area as people will begin traveling again soon. (Photo by Brett Dunlap)

PARKERSBURG — Wood County has seen fewer tourism dollars coming in over the last year as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic which has impacted local attractions who receive a portion of the hotel/motel tax.

Mark Lewis, president and CEO of the Greater Parkersburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, appeared before the Wood County Commission on Thursday to discuss the decline in the hotel/motel tax over the last year as a result of the pandemic.

“It has been a long year,” Lewis said. “Tourism and travel have been particularly hard hit.”

Not only is tourism travel down considerably but so is business travel.

“Our revenue from the lodging tax dropped 36 percent in 2020,” Lewis said.

As such, local restaurants and other businesses have seen declines as well. Lewis said the CVB will forego seeking additional revenues with partnerships it usually has with such businesses. The CVB is also saving money by not printing new visitor guides, but is using up a surplus of over 33,000 copies left from last year with stickers used to mark the change in year.

That brought the CVB’s total of loss revenue to 43 percent, he said. The bureau has tried to have a significant carry-over fund from one year to the next to use in case of emergencies. They had the resources to weather the storm, but just barely, Lewis said.

The CVB is looking to be in a position this year, as circumstances change, to be able to go out and heavily market the area as he believes there will be a “pent up demand for travel and tourism.”

The CVB has received a $150,000 loan through the federal Small Business Association. Lewis said they have reduced their expenses by 38 percent. The bureau has received other money and tax credits through federal sources.

His two workers in his office were furloughed for four months.

“We managed to keep the doors open,” Lewis said. “We are in a solid financial position moving forward.”

Last year, their efforts were about getting local people to frequent area business and attractions as they weren’t getting many visitors from outside the area, he said.

“We were pretty successful in that,” Lewis said. “We have high hopes for this year.

“We believe there is demand and we are getting there.”

A number of fairs and festivals have already canceled just due to uncertainty now.

The focus this year will be on local attractions, like Blennerhassett Island, the Oil and Gas Museum and other history and heritage attractions. There will also be a focus this year on outdoor recreation which saw a lot of growth statewide last year.

“We are very hopeful for this year,” Lewis said.

Commission President Blair Couch said the county and local cities will be getting money from the American Recovery Act. He hopes they will be able to help a number of non-profits and area attractions make up for lost revenue during the last year.

The hotel motel tax brought in $715,590.91 in 2018-19. It dropped to $523,459.31 in 2019-20 after the travel related to oil/gas business had pretty much ceased. It dropped to $305,208.16 for 2020-21.

Money from the tax goes to such organizations such as the Actors Guild of Parkersburg, Artsbridge, the Parkersburg Art Center, the Smoot Theatre, Mountwood Park, a number of local fairs and festivals and more.

“It will be a matter of figuring out the right dollar amount to be able to divvy up,” Couch said.

He wants to look at what organizations were receiving prior to the pandemic and see how much money will be coming in from the America Recovery Act and how that money can be spent.

“We will need to come up with a amount that we can provide to all of our partners to make them whole or at least as close as we can to making them whole again,” Couch said.

In other business, Ryan Osborne and John Isner of the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Council appeared before the commission to inform them that offers on five more houses in Happy Valley near the Little Kanawha River were accepted as part of a Federal Emergency Management Agency program for a flood mitigation project in that area.

There were 11 homes that had offers on them and Isner said they have not received any word on the other six.

“We haven’t heard anything from those owners,” he said.

Appraisals on those properties did come in lower than expected. The total cost is $744,499, including $2,784 for title insurance and $741,715 to purchase the five homes. The money would be provided completely through FEMA grant funds, officials said.

The commission unanimously approved a resolution granting its authorization to move forward with the sales.

Contact Brett Dunlap at bdunlap@newsandsentinel.com

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