WV Press News Sharing
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia Tourism Cabinet Secretary Chelsea Ruby has issued the following OP-ED on West Virginia Day for your consideration. There is a photo attached.
Chelsea A. Ruby: It’s West Virginia’s birthday. Keep the celebration going!
You did it.
For the past five years, the Department of Tourism has asked you to celebrate West Virginia’s birthday by sharing your favorite Almost Heaven places and moments on social media. You’ve responded in a huge way: tens of thousands of posts that have been seen tens of millions of times and showcased every corner of our state.
And it worked! Together, we turned around the state’s tourism industry and started setting records. And we’ve transformed perceptions of West Virginia. Suddenly, our state is one of the hottest tourism spots in the world, making the 2022 top-destinations lists of Condé Nast, TIME, USA Today, Lonely Planet, and Frommer’s. No other place on the planet even came close.
When we organized the first West Virginia Day social media takeover, we knew it would make an impact, but wow! We had no idea what amazing results it would set in motion.
The premise is simple: Social media influences most travel decisions. And it gives West Virginia the potential for a big marketing advantage. For one thing, it’s visual, and there’s no place more beautiful than West Virginia.
For another, it bypasses traditional marketing and lets people who are passionate about something communicate that feeling directly to other people. That’s why it’s powerful. And no one is more passionate about their state than West Virginians. If that wasn’t clear enough six years ago, it certainly is today.
Now let’s keep it going. This year we have more than ever to celebrate. America’s newest national park, the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, was a smashing success in its first year, garnering 30% visitor growth and worldwide media attention. This year is sure to set another record.
The travel experience has finally returned to normal after two years of COVID-19 closures and restrictions. West Virginia tourism is fully open for business. Tourism will contribute close to $5 billion to our economy this year and support 45,000 jobs.
New tourism investment is booming, with more than $250 million in projects in the pipeline. Just last month, White Sulphur Springs welcomed the Schoolhouse Hotel, the world’s first all-ADA compliant hotel. In Fayetteville, a group of three retired school buildings is being transformed into a boutique hotel, modern apartments and townhomes.
Our state parks are completing $151 million in maintenance and improvements, including a new lodge at Cacapon Resort State Park and renovations at every lodge and cabin in the system. Last year’s state park visitation set a record, and this year’s is on pace to break it.
The state has two new tourism trails to highlight our natural beauty and country roads. The West Virginia Waterfall Trail debuted last week, featuring more than two dozen waterfalls around the state and prizes for visiting them. And the West Virginia Mountain Rides program features the state’s most beautiful scenic routes, aimed at attracting motorcyclists and drivers alike. The first official Mountain Ride was launched last month: Seneca Skyway, which starts in Lewisburg and winds through the Allegheny Highlands to Canaan Valley and Green Bank.
The good news goes far beyond just tourism. Nucor, one of the world’s leading steel producers, is building a new manufacturing plant in Mason County. Thousands of jobs will be created. GreenPower picked South Charleston as the site for its new facility to make electric-powered school buses. Statewide, unemployment is near a record low. The state’s budget has never been in better shape. And Babydog continues to bring smiles to our faces as she travels the state greeting her admirers. Hats off to the leader of this remarkable turnaround, Governor Jim Justice, whose commitment to economic development and tourism is unmatched. Together with the support of the West Virginia Legislature, hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in tourism over the past several years. West Virginians will benefit from this investment for generations to come.
And, of course, West Virginia is as gorgeous and inviting as always. Summer is upon us. The hills are lush and vividly green. Adventure awaits.
Just in case you need another reason to get out there and enjoy what West Virginia has to offer, we’ve picked Instagram-ready scenic overlooks in every region of the state where you can snap a postable pic. Students at Nicholas County Career and Technical Center have built Almost Heaven photo backdrops for each site–super-sized wooden swing sets where you can take in the unbelievable views. On June 20, the locations will be revealed at www.wvtourism.com/views.
So let’s step up to the challenge again this year. Show the world what you love about West Virginia. Celebrate her birthday by visiting your favorite Mountain State spot, taking a picture, and posting it on social media using #AlmostHeaven for all to see. There’s no better way to show off your West Virginia pride–and help create West Virginia jobs while you’re at it.
About Chelsea Ruby:
Chelsea Ruby was appointed Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Tourism by West Virginia’s 36th Governor Jim Justice in March 2021. This appointment marked an elevation of the West Virginia Tourism Office to a cabinet-level department, where Ruby served as Tourism Commissioner for four years. Tourism is a pillar of Governor Justice’s administration. As Secretary, Ruby leads efforts to unify and promote the state’s Almost Heaven brand, advance tourism development, and promote the Mountain State to a broader audience, featuring West Virginia as a year-round travel destination to both national and international travelers.
Under Ruby’s leadership, tourism in West Virginia has seen historic success. Annual traveler spending grew by $611 million, a 14.8% increase, in three years preceding the pandemic. Along with growth in visitation, the state has seen historic levels of private investment. Recent projects total more than $250 million in new developments and represent every region of the state.
She and her team have received numerous marketing and advertising accolades for the Almost Heaven brand campaign, which launched in April 2018. The Department of Tourism has been recognized as a national leader with an ESTO Mercury Award for best broadcast television ad, both an Eddie Award and an ESTO Mercury Award for the 2020 vacation guide, and a ESTO Mercury Award for community building during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Previously, Ruby served as Director of Marketing and Communications for the West Virginia Department of Commerce, where she earned numerous state and regional marketing awards for the department’s successful social media, print publications, and comprehensive public relations and advertising campaigns. She also was a member of then-Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s communications staff and served as executive director of West Virginia’s acclaimed 150th birthday celebration. In 2021, Ruby was named a Young Gun by West Virginia Executive Magazine. She was named Young Practitioner of the Year by the West Virginia Public Relations Society of America in 2014, as well as being recognized as one of West Virginia’s 40 top young professionals by Generation Next in 2015.
Secretary Ruby currently serves on the board of directors for Travel South USA, the official regional destination marketing organization for the southern United States. She is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma and lives in Charleston, West Virginia, with her husband Steve, and their two children.