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CVB furloughs 8 employees, lays off 3 staff members

Visit Mountaineer Country Convention and Visitors Bureau furloughed eight employees, laid off two part-time and one full-time staff member and its president and CEO took a voluntary
20% salary cut.

Susan Riddle said these moves were necessary because the bulk of the CVB’s revenue — the
6% Monongalia County hotel room tax — has been mostly wiped out by COVID-19 restrictions and business closures since March.

“Nationwide, the industry has been devastated,” said Riddle, who made the cost-cutting moves last month.

“This was the right thing to do,” said Riddle, adding the reductions were made when the country and the state were first entering the pandemic.

The CVB’s budget varies between $1.3 and $1.6 million a year, Board President Terri Cutright said.

The CVB, however, was not blindsided by the current revenue decline. It takes about two months for the hotel room tax to even get into the bureau’s coffers because it first has to pass through the county. This lag time gave Riddle ample time to see and plan for the revenue hit the organization was going to take.

“We want to position this organization to be successful,” Riddle said.

Typically hotels in the Visit Mountaineer Country’s service area — Monongalia, Preston and Taylor counties — runs just over 60%, but with social distancing encouraged and many businesses closed since mid-March when the pandemic first hit, the local hotel room occupancy rate dropped as low as 17% and is only now at 25%, she said.

In a typical year, Monongalia County collects a little more than $800,000 in hotel room tax revenue, county financial documents show.

“People aren’t traveling as much,” said Riddle, who is now the CVB’s lone employee. “We need to hit the reset button.”

Staff reductions included a part-time intern in the CVB’s main office, as well as a full-time and a part-time worker in its downtown Morgantown visitor’s center which is now closed.

Because Visit Mountaineer Country is a nonprofit, it was not eligible to receive any federal stimulus money such as the Paycheck Protection Program, Riddle said.

Cutright, meanwhile, applauded Riddle’s foresight in making the cuts before things got worse.

“She was looking down the road,” Cutright said. “She knew how bad occupancy was going to be.

“We’re all very comfortable under Susan’s leadership. We are going to make it through this.”

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