By March 21, 2017 Read More →

Justice seeks more tourism dollars for stronger ad campaign

By JIM ROSS

The State Journal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice says the state’s previous campaign at promoting tourism have been “an absolute waste of effort.”

Commissioner of the Division of Tourism Chelsea Ruby

He wants to increase the state’s tourism budget. Chelsea Ruby, commissioner of the Division of Tourism, says too few people have seen ads the state has been running, so it’s time for a change.

But the Republican leadership in the Legislature has been pushing for spending cuts, not spending increases.

Justice expressed his desire for more tourism money Monday afternoon to members of the state Tourism Commission, the West Virginia Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus and the West Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association as events related to Tourism Day at the Legislature were wrapping up.

Justice framed his desire for more tourism money in the context of his ongoing dispute with the legislative leadership over how to balance the state’s budget.

“People say we have to live within our means. Why in the world didn’t we do it before?” he said. “The easy stuff – the low-hanging fruit – we’ve cleaned that off.”

Justice likened the Republican approach to a family having to take in Grandma, then leaving her on the porch overnight so she would die and no longer be its burden.

“For people who portray this as taxes versus live within your means, you’re an idiot. It’s recovery versus death,” he said.

The governor said a “big faction” of Republican legislators “is right with me” on the budget debate. As for the leadership, he said, “They feel like they’re on a mission from God, and their mission is to cut. …

“Anything we do, the question we should ask, by doing that, do we think more people are going to come to West Virginia or are more people going to leave?”

After Justice made his comments and left the room, Ruby and Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher provided more details about what Justice envisions. Ruby said the state’s previous tourism advertising efforts have not reached enough people.

“We’ve got the products. We’ve just got to do a better job telling our story,” she said.

West Virginia has about $4.5 billion in tourism revenue per year, which is the less than that of the five neighboring states and North Carolina and Michigan, she said.

She said Michigan once was last in the nation in room occupancy rates. Then it launched the national “Pure Michigan” campaign, touting its outdoor recreation opportunities, and it now leads the region in length of stay, she said.

“The goal in a couple of years is people asking, ‘Why don’t we do what West Virginia did?’” Ruby said.

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