CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Whitewater rafting in Southern West Virginia has been in a free-fall in recent years, dropping from more than 225,000 rafters on the New and Gauley rivers in 2000 to fewer than 100,000 this year, industry representatives told legislators Monday.
“The biggest thing we can attribute it to is the lack of marketing by the state of West Virginia,” said Rick Johnson, operator of River Expeditions. “We’re getting our butts whipped by every state around us.”
State Tourism Commissioner Amy Shuler Goodwin told legislators her agency has a marketing budget this year of under $3 million. By comparison, Virginia will spend $20 million on tourism advertising and promotion.
Also, funds for the Tourism Commission’s advertising matching grants have plunged from $23 million in 2004 to $3.3 million this year, as state Lottery revenues have declined and been diverted to fund other programs.
Dave Arnold, with Class VI River Runners and Adventures on the Gorge, compared West Virginia’s current plight with a decision by Colorado legislators in 1993 to eliminate the state’s $12 million tourism advertising budget as a cost-saving measure.
That resulted in a 30 percent decline in tourism in the state, ultimately costing $2.4 billion a year in lost revenue, before funding for tourism advertising was restored in 2000.
“Each year, when we cut our marketing budget, we are slowly doing the same thing Colorado did. We are slowing killing ourselves,
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