West Virginia Builds Tourism Despite the Economy

Strategy: Enhance Your Product, Focus on Customer Potential

Type of attraction: Tourism Organization

Summary: When the economy entered its steep decline, West Virginia tourism officials saw not a devastated travel industry, but an opportunity to gain market share by promoting the state’s culture and heritage.

When the economy entered its steep decline, West Virginia tourism officials saw not a devastated travel industry, but an opportunity to gain market share by promoting the state’s culture and heritage.

“We are a short drive-to destination for lots of metropolitan areas,” says Justin Gaull, tourism marketing specialist with the West Virginia Division of Tourism. “When the economy started its downturn, we shifted our marketing. We can appeal to people’s need to get away so we promote West Virginia as ‘close to home yet far enough away.’ Lots of our attractions have seen record numbers in the last two years. We have only dropped about 4% in visitation statewide, and we hope we have actually gained market share.”

In addition to redirecting promotions, the tourism office focused on developing new information resources and products focused on culture and heritage. A key development was creation of a culture and heritage website, www.wvtraditions.com.

One new initiative included development of a driving tour brochures created for West Virginia’s historic theatres and New Deal/Civilian Conservation Corps sites.The initiative was a partnership with the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia and the West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office.
The brochures were partially funded by a Preserve America grant (www.preserveamerica.gov). “Every attraction in these brochures had to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places,” Gaull says. The brochures were then placed on the Division of Tourism’s Culture and Heritage website, www.wvtraditions.com. Additionally, visitors can also get information on arts and crafts, railroad excursions, music, festivals and other topics.

“The site is accessed directly or through a gateway on our main tourism site. Our print ads lead back to the site which gives us a good tracking mechanism,” Gaull says.

The Division of Tourism also oversees the West Virginia Civil War Trails program (part of a multi-state program) and has recently designated funding for 150 Civil War markers to be installed across the state in preparation for the Civil War Sesquicentennial.

Another product is the new West Virginia State Museum which opened in 2009 in Charleston and is managed by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History.  “It is state-of-the-art,” Gaull notes. “Visitors walk through history and end up in modern-day West Virginia.”

The tourism office is seeing the results of all of these efforts: visits to West Virginia Welcome Centers during the July 4, 2010 weekend were up 14.7 percent compared to 2009. In 2009, the Welcome Centers recorded 49,608 visitors during the Friday-through-Monday holiday weekend. In 2010, the number of visitors at the centers totaled 56,899.

For more information, visit www.wvtraditions.com or www.wvtourism.com; contact Justin Gaull West Virginia Division of Tourism, Justin.M.Gaull@wv.gov, 304-957-9385.