Opinion

Tourism holds great potential to boost economy

Herald-Dispatch editorial

Most West Virginians agree that we need to diversify the state economy, but where do you start?

One of the potential growth industries at the top of Gov. Jim Justice’s list is tourism, and that certainly seems to be an area where the Mountain State has much to offer and plenty of room to grow.

Although we hear a lot about tourism, the economic impact of tourism is relatively small. Total tourism spending in the state is estimated at about $3 billion annually, accounting for about 28,000 jobs, according to the state surveys of the U.S. Travel Association.

That is about a third of the size of Kentucky’s tourism spending ($8.7 billion) and a fraction of what is spent in other neighboring states – Ohio ($18.5 billion), Pennsylvania ($24.4 billion), Maryland ($15.9 billion) and Virginia ($22.9 billion), according to the U.S. Travel Association. Another way to look at it, Virginia has about 10 times the tourism-related employment of West Virginia.

But as Justice has stressed, the state has much to offer, not only with outdoor recreation such as skiing, whitewater sports and ATV trails, but also with historic attractions and strong Appalachia arts and music traditions. As the new governor noted in his inaugural speech, this is another industry that could benefit from West Virginia’s proximity to the large population centers of the Northeast and the eastern seaboard.

Just doing more to tell that story should help. The state Tourism Commission’s advertising budget and matching advertising grants program are small, less than $8 million combined. A recent report shows the state already has been getting a good return on that investment and ramping up that spending makes a lot of sense.

Justice also wants to improve coordination and collaboration between the Tourism Commission and related state agencies such as the Division of Natural Resources, State Parks and Department of Transportation, new Tourism Commissioner Chelsea Ruby told the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Justice also hopes to increase the number of attractions, with a goal of destinations in every part of the state that would encourage weeklong or more extended visits, Ruby said. Many states have been successful in funding or supporting museums, historical sites or parks that become tourism magnets.

It also will be critical to work with local tourism and convention bureaus to connect tourists with attractions across the state that might extend a vacation stay or spark plans for a return visit.

Tourism is an area where the Mountain State already has a lot to build on and great potential to grow.

See more from The Herald-Dispatch

Comments are closed.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter