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#AlmostHeaven, Bridge Walk scored as major success for West Virginia tourism

By LINDA HARRIS

The State Journal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia Tourism Commissioner Chelsea Ruby wants to keep the volume turned up after what she describes as an incredibly successful social media campaign designed to tell the world “Wild & Wonderful” is more than just a catch-phrase.

“We’re thrilled,” Ruby said. “We knew we were doing something very unique.”

The Division of Tourism and National Geographic Travel partnered on a Facebook live stream of the catwalk beneath the New River Gorge Bridge, which turned into the organization’s No. 1 performing Facebook live feed of all time, with more than 369,000 views since its June 20 debut.

The Bridge Walk live stream was part of the Division’s viral social media campaign encouraging “all those who love West Virginia…to share photos on social media” using the #AlmostHeaven hashtag.

In just two weeks, the campaign reached an audience of more than 15 million, with over 415,000 directly participating in the effort.

“Bridge Walk is something you can only do in West Virginia, there’s an absolutely breathtaking view from up there,” she said. “We knew it would be popular, but we were blown away by the popularity. National Geographic Travel said it was the most popular live stream they’ve ever done.”

Ruby said it just reinforces what she and so many West Virginians already know: “People will fall in love with West Virginia if they’re exposed to it, but we’ve got to do a better job of telling the world about it.”

“We did that as part of the #Almost Heaven theme,” Ruby said. “Over the two weeks, over 50 million people were exposed to beautiful images of West Virginia so we’re taking steps in the right direction in exposing people to tremendous outdoor recreation and world class tourism opportunities here in West Virginia.”

Ruby said their goal is to “familiarize people with West Virginia, the West Virginia we all know and love.”

“It’s no secret if you travel outside West Virginia there are negative images associated with the state, a lot of time the stereotypes were created by people who’ve never even been in West Virginia,” she said. “We’re taking an active role working with West Virginia and all those who love West Virginia to make sure do everything can to tell our story, tell people West Virginia really is ‘Almost Heaven.’ Those of us who live here and love West Virginia know those stereotypes aren’t true, they know this is a tremendous place to live work and play. The quality of life here is unmatched. If people really knew what we have to offer, we’d see huge growth in our tourism industry and it would spill over into business recruitment and our state’s economy generally.”

Dispelling the misinformation “isn’t going to happen overnight, we didn’t get here overnight.”

“But we made tremendous strides with this campaign, we reached over 15 million people in two weeks and reached over 369,000 with the National Geographic Bridge Walk but we can’t stop now. Every day is a great day to tell people how wonderful West Virginia is.”

Ruby said the social media campaigns, coupled with the paid advertising they’re doing to promote summer activities in West Virginia, “are multiplying the effect of our advertising, it goes hand-in-hand.”

“The beautiful images of West Virginia that were submitted (through #WestVirginia) increased the effectiveness of that advertising,” she said.”If you look at the research, these are important things we’re doing: 52 percent of travelers were inspired to take a trip based on a post they saw on social media. Think about it — people planned a vacation that was inspired by a picture or a post they saw on social media.”

By improving the state’s image and telling outsiders as well as Mountain residents about the state’s tourism opportunities, “I believe we can grow the industry,” she said. “An increase in travel spending will have a spillover effect in the state’s economy generally…Tourism advertising doesn’t just help tourism, it helps our overall image and helps people look at the state as a place they’re more likely want to retire or live or start a business.”

“It doesn’t have to be West Virginia’s birthday to celebrate all the things that are great about Wild & Wonderful West Virginia,” she adds.

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