CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice and Tourism Commissioner Chelsea Ruby unveiled the state’s new “Almost Heaven” tourism campaign Wednesday morning.
Justice and Ruby introduced the campaign at a Capitol press conference, and Ruby followed up with a media conference call.
“We have been saying for years West Virginia is the best-kept secret on the East Coast,” she said during the call. It’s time to share the state’s beauty, culture and people with the world. “Right now we’re not on the map for a lot of people.”
West Virginia has faced some tourism hurdles, she said. One is negative stereotypes, and failing to invest adequately in refuting them.
Another is numbers. Only 14 percent of overnight visitors are first-timers, she said. The remainder are repeat visitors. We need to draw more first-timers who will in turn become repeat visitors.
The new campaign, Justice said, hinges on two elements. One is the concept of longing.
He recalled his recent trip to San Diego for the NCAA basketball playoffs. There were a lot of expatriate West Virginians there. That connected to his thinking on longing.
“When we leave it’s almost like it’s in our spirit, it is in our heart, and we long to be home and we long for all the greatness about what West Virginia really is. The campaign should promote that some longing in tourists from other states.”
Tied to that is promoting the state’s scenic beauty.
“We’re embarking on something that’s going to drive lots and lots of folks here.”
West Virginia bought the rights to John Denver’s “Country Roads” song, Ruby said. The initial TV spot uses the song as the backdrop to highlight scenes from around the state. The broadcast, print, billboard and digital ads will all use that same link, inspiring people to visit Almost Heaven.
Research showed that the Almost Heaven theme was an effective means of promoting positive associations with the state’s name, she said. The research also showed that people reacted more positively to photographs featuring scenes of sweeping beauty than to activity shots packed with people.
The campaign will use photos of scenic beauty submitted by people around the state, she said. The campaign will emphasize the state as whole, not particular areas.
Justice noted that a Michigan campaign to promote its beaches worked better when it promoted all its beaches rather than allowing rival communities to work against each other.
The ads will also feature a rustically, gracefully curved West Virginia logo taken from a map drafted in the early days of the state.
The campaign will cost about $3 million, Ruby said. The funding includes $800,000 from private tourism industry partners. Its initial focus will be on the East Coast: D.C, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Columbus, Roanoke (Va.), Baltimore, Harrisburg, Charlotte and Richmond.
If the governor’s optimistic revenue projections pan out and Tourism gets more funding via supplemental appropriations, they hope to expand the reach, she said.
Almost Heaven isn’t designed to replace Wild and Wonderful Ruby said. The two slogans will coexist, but Almost Heaven will see a heavier emphasis.
The initial campaign will run about six to eight months, Ruby said. Research indicates every tourism dollar spent yields $8 in tourist spending here in the state. They’ve contracted a company to conduct an advertising assessment study to see to what degree tourism has increased as a result of the campaign. Those results will be shared next year.