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Event destination: Area’s lodging taxes blow by pre-pandemic numbers

MORGANTOWN — People aren’t coming to Morgantown for vacation. 

They’re not spending months planning to fly across the country for a week-long getaway to north-central West Virginia. 

But they are coming. 

And in record numbers. 

Four years after COVID all but snuffed out the tourism industry — reducing the Visit Mountaineer Country Convention and Visitors Bureau, the state’s most robust, to a single employee — things have rebounded, and then some. 

“We are back and exceeding our pre-pandemic levels,” Visit Mountaineer Country President & CEO Susan Riddle said. “We had a banner year.” 

Lodging tax receipts tell the story. They serve as both a primary indicator of how many people are visiting an area and the primary funding source for West Virginia’s CVBs. 

In simple terms a lodging tax — sometimes called a hotel/motel tax — is up to 6% of the cost of a hotel room. Those taxes are then split between the county or municipality and the area’s CVB. 

In 2023, lodging receipts were $1,864,624, which represents a 15% jump over 2022 and sits 34% higher than the eight-year average from 2016-23. 

By comparison, lodging taxes totaled about $1,467,000 in 2019, a four-year high, just before COVID brought everything to a grinding halt.

It’s all happened one day and one event at a time. 

Riddle, an enthusiastic champion of VMCCVB’s mantra “One more night, one more dollar,” said the CVB has leaned into the area’s strengths. 

“We know no one gets up in the morning … and says, ‘I’m coming to north-central West Virginia on vacation. But we are the number-one events destination, and we are also for day-trippers because of the retail we have. That’s been shown in the state’s data,” Riddle said. “You have people constantly coming and going, coming and going.” 

Events, she continued, equal big money. 

Over one weekend in March, the State YMCA of Pennsylvania came to Morgantown to hold its state swim meet in Mylan Park’s aquatic center. Organizers applied for, and received, a $15,000 grant from the Monongalia County Tourism Advancement Fund to assist with their site selection process. 

The result — more than $815,000 in direct spending just tied to the event and area lodging. That number doesn’t include the money spent in local stores and restaurants. 

Riddle said there were eight significant events held in the county last weekend, ranging from a regional dog show to WVU’s Gold-Blue Spring Game.

“We embrace being an events destination,” she said, noting “a biggie” is coming to town the last week of July, when the 10-day USA Diving Junior Nationals arrives in Mylan Park. 

During a recent visit to Monongalia County, West Virginia Tourism Secretary Chelsea Ruby said West Virginia is quickly becoming one of the country’s top tourism destinations.  

The state is broken into eight tourism regions. Monongalia County is in the Mountaineer Country region. 

“The Mountaineer Country region is one of our fastest-growing tourism regions right now,” Ruby said. “That’s because when people come here, they have an incredible experience. They’re met with some of the friendliest folks. … You all are taking a true regional approach to tourism.” 

To that point, Riddle explained her organization recently included the new executive directors for the Marion County and Clarksburg CVBs in a grant that will see those individuals as well as the entire VMCCVB staff certified as Professionals in Destination Management through Destinations International. 

In addition, the CVB recently conducted its second-annual tourism summit for the Mountaineer Country region and will hold a regional grant workshop on Monday. 

“We’re very blessed to be a leader, not only in the region but in the state,” Riddle said, later adding, “We’re trying to raise the bar.” 

The Visit Mountaineer Country CVB serves Monongalia, Preston and Taylor counties.

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