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Editorial: West Virginia citizens, visitors serve as great travel promoters

From The Charleston Gazette-Mail:
Two years ago, the West Virginia Department of Commerce’s Division of Tourism promoted a new travel campaign: Real.

It’s a great campaign, still ongoing, and at the time the agency included a commendable effort to get West Virginia residents involved in promoting the state using social media.

This year, in conjunction with West Virginia Day on June 20, the state Division of Tourism, under Commissioner Chelsea Ruby, took its social media campaign to a whole new level.

“Last month, you pulled off one of the most successful social media campaigns by any state, ever,” Ruby wrote, addressing state social media users, in a column distributed to the state’s newspapers. “In a span of just two weeks you used #AlmostHeaven tens of thousands of times, and your posts reached more than 15 million people.”

Congratulations to all the West Virginia residents and visitors who took part. And congratulations to the Division of Tourism for initiating a clever, efficient and effective campaign to promote the state using the state’s best ambassadors — its own citizens and people who come here to travel.

“At its peak, #AlmostHeaven was one of the top 10 trending Twitter hashtags in the world,” Ruby wrote.

She credits each social media user who used the #AlmostHeaven hashtag and posted a picture, nominated a friend or shared a post. Other social media users were able to see “spectacular sunsets, jaw-dropping mountaintop views and outdoor adventure that never stops. And in the middle of it all was you — and the people you love — having the time of your life.”

“In thousands of comments, people from outside West Virginia gave their instant reactions to the campaign,” Ruby wrote. “They expressed awe at our beauty, surprise at seeing a side of West Virginia totally different from their expectations and plans to visit destinations they’d never even heard of a month ago.”

Like every other state agency, the Division of Tourism operates on a tight budget — although it has $6.5 million more than the “zero dollars” Gov. Jim Justice famously claimed in his Fiscal Year 2018 budget news conference.

Yet dollars to advertise the state to tourists in nearby big cities are limited. Meanwhile, Americans are increasingly making travel plans based on what they see on social media.

Ruby and the staff at the Division of Tourism are making the most of an inexpensive, widespread and influential new way to spread the word. And they are using the state’s own residents, as well as visitors, to be the ones to do it.

While the program was initiated in conjunction with West Virginia Day, it doesn’t need to end.

“West Virginia Day may be over, but that’s no reason to stop posting your West Virginia memories,” Ruby wrote. “Keep showing off those scenic views, big bucks, happy dogs and laughing kids. Keep shining a light on the real West Virginia. And let’s make every day #AlmostHeaven.”

Good job by the West Virginia Division of Tourism in anointing the state’s citizens and visitors as travel ambassadors. And great job by all who have participated. Keep it going. And, if you haven’t already, join in.

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