Tourism pros gather in Morgantown for annual conference

MORGANTOWN — Tourism professionals from around the state are in Morgantown for the annual West Virginia Governor’s Conference on Tourism.

Today is the second day of meetings at the event center at Morgantown Marriott at Waterfront Place.Gov. Jim Justice will cap the conference with a 2 p.m. appearance to present new research by Longwoods, the Colorado-based tourism research firm.

On Tuesday night, attendees gathered at Touchdown Terrace in the Milan Puskar Stadium for a reception hosted by the Greater Morgantown Convention & Visitors Bureau, to nibble finger foods, sip drinks, enjoy the sounds of a steel drum duo and socialize.

State Tourism Commissioner Chelsea Ruby said the conference drew about 250 people. They’re celebrating successes from past year and enjoying industry and marketing training sessions. They’re learning about community development, how to love your city and pass that onto others, search engine optimization and international marketing.

Last year, she said, 87 percent of the people who visited the state had been here before. “Where we struggle and the place we’re trying to improve is our new visitation.” New visitors will expand the base of people who come and spend money and, hopefully, become repeat visitors too.

A display illustrating the Aquatic Center at Mylan Park. William Wotring/The Dominion Post

“It’s all geared toward making West Virginia a place people want to come back to for years and years.”

Earlier this year, Tourism launched its Almost Heaven campaign, built on John Denver’s famous song, which the state bought the rights to.  One element of the campaign, she said it to overcome regional fragmentation and “come together as an industry and market the state as a world class destination.”

Last year, the tourism industry spent $1.5 million on cooperative advertising to promote the whole state, she said. “It’s really coming together. We’re starting to see our numbers turn around and some really positive increases.”

In his January State of the State address, Justice had promoted tourism as a driver to help turn around the state’s lagging economy. He proposed to increase Tourism’s budget from $6 million to $20 million. The statewide teacher and school employee strike and raise package scotched that plan, but Ruby said the end-of-year surplus allowed the Legislature to allot an additional $2.5 million and the governor is looking at ways to boost the budget for Fiscal Year 2020.

Susan Riddle is executive director of the Greater Morgantown CVB. She appreciates the whole-state approach to tourism. “The more that we’re all able to promote their new branding package [Almost Heaven] … the more that we can all collectively benefit,” she said.

The CVB’s twin goals are “one more night, one more dollar,” she said. Here and across the state, many visitors are adults on day trips. They want to encourage those visitors to stay overnight. “We know once we get them they’re going to be coming back.”

Visitors can learn what’s going on here, she said, at the CVB’s website, It features an events calendar, activities and itineraries. Last year the website saw 1 million visitors.

“We are relay blessed here. We manage abundance in our region,” she said. Displays posted around the terrace meeting room showed Morgantown riverfront development, the Star City dock project and the Mylan Park aquatic facility, among other things. “We have lots to offer.”

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