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Justice wants to revamp state tourism efforts


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice wants to revamp state efforts to promote tourism, reorganizing the Division of Tourism into a new state Tourism Office, and replacing tourism promotion matching grants with a cooperative advertising program, according to legislation introduced Tuesday.

Legislation (SB 535) introduced Tuesday at the behest of the Justice administration would also encourage public-private partnerships for the promotion and development of tourism enterprises in the state.

Among the powers and duties of the new Tourism Office:

Develop strategies to expand and diversify the tourism base, including cooperative efforts with local, regional and private tourism enterprises.

Provide advertising, marketing and communications, including cooperative advertising, to promote tourism.

Assist in recruiting new tourism-related enterprises to the state, and retaining and expanding existing tourism enterprises.

Assist in the production of motion pictures, television programs and other communications. Justice, in his budget plan, has proposed eliminating funding for the state Film Office and for film investment tax credits.

The bill also provides for a streamlined process for the Tourism Office to contract with advertising and marketing agencies for tourism promotion campaigns.

Under the current system, the state Tourism Commission gives out matching grants four times a year to help businesses that rely on tourists promote themselves. Since 2009, the commission has given out more than $40 million. The maximum grant available in 2016 was $175,000, and the commission rarely denied them to businesses that asked.

Two of Justice’s businesses — The Greenbrier and Glade Springs resorts — have received nearly $2 million since 2009 from the Tourism Commission. After he was elected, Justice did not answer questions about whether his family’s businesses would continue to seek the state tourism grants once he was governor.

During the gubernatorial campaign, Justice touted growth of state tourism as a key to his plans to turn around the state economy. He called for creating 16,000 new tourism jobs through aggressive advertising and promotion, and through new developments, including a theme park resort modeled after Dollywood.

On the campaign trail, he frequently complained that the state under-invested in tourism promotion compared to campaigns by other states, such as “Pure Michigan,” with much larger advertising budgets.

Part of Justice’s 2017-18 state budget includes raising the state beer tax and increasing the state’s wholesale markup on liquor to provide an additional $5.6 million a year for tourism advertising.

State Tourism Commissioner Chelsea Ruby was out of the office Tuesday and unavailable for comment.

The bill goes to the Senate Government Organization Committee, and then to the Finance Committee.

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