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CVB ready to take a cautious first step back after COVID-19 cancellations

MORGANTOWN — The equation is simple

Busy hotels collect more lodging taxes. More lodging taxes  mean bigger budgets for  CVBs. 

For the Visit Mountaineer Country Convention and Visitors Bureau, lodging tax revenue has climbed steadily the last four years, topping out at $1.467 million in 2019.

And 2020 was going to be even better.

After the first quarter, 2020 numbers eclipsed Q1 2019 by $109,000, a jump of 36%.

Then COVID-19 punched the world in the gut.

The second quarter of 2020 was down 55% over the previous year, and June set a new low with just $40,000 in lodging receipts.  That’s down 69% from June 2019.

In response the agency has taken a number of actions, including furloughing, laying off or eliminating all but the executive director position and closing its High Street visitor center,  cutting monthly  expenses from approximately $122,000  to around $50,000. 

It also leaned heavily on advertising firm BlaineTurner, which deferred some $400,000 in CVB payments without interest and cut their contracted fee by roughly $40,000.

Now, Executive Director Susan Riddle said, the nonprofit agency is ready to take a cautious first step back from COVID-19 — emphasis on cautious.

She and Board President Terri Cutright met  with the Monongalia County Commission recently to discuss how the county can support that effort.

“Given the activity we have going on, we really need to bring some people back. So we went ahead and we have some staff that start on Monday the 13th. We decided we would phase things in. Right now, we’re bringing in Phase 1,” Riddle said.

The cautious, phased approach is due to multiple reasons, some more obvious than others.

One, nobody knows what the future holds when it comes to COVID-19. Riddle said that just as rapidly as new items are being added to the event calendar, others are being cancelled off.

Additionally, she said the actual data the CVB receives regarding its lodging tax revenue is so varied and unpredictable that it’s difficult to parse — particularly in the midst of a pandemic that’s all but halted the tourism industry.

“I looked long and hard at what lodging tax information we get from each of the municipalities, and it varies, from soup to nuts. Terri and I recently had a meeting trying to ask for more information and, frankly, we used the county as the example of what we get for everybody to use as the baseline because we’re operating in the dark,” Riddle said, explaining  that improvements to the  lodging tax collection process at the state level are needed.

She said Phase I of the comeback will increase monthly costs by $10,000, to $60,000. Phase II will be an additional $10,000, as will Phase III.

Commissioner Tom Bloom said he would like to consider using funds the commission put aside for COVID-19 related issues to help the CVB 

It was also mentioned that any assistance the county provided could potentially be submitted for CARES reimbursement.