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Mystery Trip: W.Va.’s tourism office deserves praise

On a national stage, West Virginia does not always enjoy the greatest of reputations. Most people, if they understand there is a West Virginia at all, have a general idea of us as backward, poor, maybe drug-addicted and living in a land like something out of “Deliverance.” (That was Georgia, people. Georgia.)

That is what makes the latest effort from Chelsea Ruby’s state tourism office so fun. In partnership with an advertising agency, Ruby and Co. got more than 500 people to apply for a mystery trip from the Washington, D.C., area. There was a pixellated ad campaign that obscured the destination of the mystery trip. Once the pool was whittled down to 33 participants, they were told to meet at 7 a.m. to board a bus, wearing layered clothes and hiking boots, and be ready for a mystery adventure.

Approximately three hours later, they arrived in the Canaan Valley/Blackwater Falls area at the peak of fall foliage season. They got to spend 48 hours in Almost Heaven, climbing at Seneca Rocks, exploring Davis and Thomas, riding horses in Canaan Valley … and of course eating. Then, poor souls, they had to go home.

“My impressions of West Virginia have certainly changed,” one participant said. “There’s so much this state has to offer in terms of food, culture and exploring nature. If there’s anything on your bucket list for vacation, West Virginia will definitely deliver.”

Even better, “I can’t wait to go home and tell friends and family that this is where we need to go next,” said another.

Meanwhile, the pixellated ads back in D.C. had switched to reveal the name of the destination, and show it in its fall finest.

It may seem as though 33 people is not a lot, but they can spread the word quickly. And the experiment is another in a long line of creative ideas out of the tourism office to help the Mountain State capitalize on the best if has to offer.

Kudos to Ruby and her team on another fun, and apparently successful, idea.

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