The Joint Committee on Economic Development met this afternoon.
An update on Tourism in the State was the first presentation. All 55 counties are seeing growth in tourism. Data is compared to “pre-pandemic” data. National travel growth is 1.2 percent. West Virginia’s travel growth is 7 percent. There has been rapid growth in tourism since the pandemic.
Tourism is using a variety of ads to draw audiences to the state including print ads in magazines, TV ads, and digital ads. The Department is thinking outside of the box for ads and targeting growing audiences. Washington DC, and Pittsburgh are the fastest growing markets for WV tourism. The targeted audience was once just people who lived within a three-hour drive of the state. However, audiences have grown beyond that, first, there was a regional focus, and now the target audience is anyone in the US. The Department has even focused on some international markets, specifically Canada, UK, and Germany. The focus is expanding to Brazil and other markets that have shown interest in traveling to states near WV.
The Department has entered partnerships with companies like Hooper and Vrbo. The partnerships push ads for West Virginia when individuals are looking for vacations in areas near WV. In addition to Tourism’s Brand Advertising Program, the Department also has a Cooperative Advertising Program. It is a public/private partnership fund, that purchases ads in coordination with brand advertising, and partners, such as counties, municipalities, organizations, etc, can buy into it. All ads direct people to the Tourism website. The Department also creates high-quality vacation guides, showcasing all 55 states.
The Department is also focusing on the growing outdoor enthusiast market. It has teamed up with AllTrails, an app for hiking, camping, biking, and other outdoor activities. The Department is also targeting the hunting and fishing markets. Major League Fishing has arrived in the state; the competition will air in February.
It was stated that regardless of the season in West Virginia, the top-performing ad is always a waterfall. With this revelation, Tourism created a Waterfall Trail, where people can check into waterfalls and win prizes. This first started as an in-state initiative to get citizens of the state to visit their waterfalls but has become so much more. People from 49 states and 12 countries have checked in at the waterfalls.
The Department launched a Culinary Trail for people looking for high-quality dining experiences. The initiative launched three weeks ago and 10,000 people have signed up. Individuals can win prizes for checking into one of the 27 featured restaurants across the state.
Tourism in the state is expected to continue to grow. There is currently $43 million in new investments taking place. The Department does have a 100-page document with grants and funding that can be utilized to help with tourism projects in the state. The Tourism Act Tax Credit was also a big help. One thing that could slow tourism growth would be workforce development. There are 21,000 annual job openings, many of which are management-level jobs paying $60,000 and up. The Department does have a $5 million grant to train current tourism industry employees, so they can fill these management jobs and educate the communities to prepare them for visitors. The Tourism Department had partnered with the Department of Education and added tourism courses into the curriculum in middle and high schools. Currently, there are 9,000 students enrolled in tourism courses across the state. Starting next year, students will be able to earn credits towards degrees in high school, like the Nursing Pathways Program. It was stressed to educate citizens on tourism and provide information to them to help promote awareness of tourism activities in their area.
All in all, tourism has a bright future in West Virginia.
The Committee also heard a presentation on the Planned Huntington Tristate Southside Aviation Development.