State seeing return on tourism dollars, commission says

Amy Shuler Goodwin

Recent efforts from the state’s Division of Tourism appear to be paying off. A new report found that advertising campaigns from the division are bringing more tourists to West Virginia, tourists who are spending significantly more money.

The report, given to the Commission on Tourism during its Thursday morning meeting, found that for every $1 the state spends on advertising and marketing, it returns $14 in state taxes, double what the return on investment was in a 2014 report.

The division’s 2016 campaign generated 1.2 million trips to West Virginia, $165 million in visitor spending and $11.9 million in state and local taxes, the report found. For every advertising dollar spent by the division, visitors spent $193 in West Virginia this year, up from $96 in 2014.

“The dollars behind moving an image of the state is monumental,” said Tourism Commissioner Amy Goodwin after the meeting. “So while the ROI [return on investment] has doubled, and that’s huge, what I believe is truly going to move tourism forward is changing the image.”

Although the report specifically looks at how likely people are to visit West Virginia and their perceptions of tourist activities, it also looks at how the division’s campaign impacts the overall perception of the state and what it’s like to live here. Goodwin called this a “halo effect,” meaning the campaign is helping not just tourist destinations but other industries.

The previous advertising campaign was in desperate need of a revamp, Goodwin said. The new campaign, which was only started 15 months ago, is already showing significant gains.

Among other things, the marketing revamp has made more people think that West Virginia is a good place to live, to start a career, to retire and to attend college, according to the report.

“Why? Because it [the old campaign] was pictures of landscapes — you already know about that,” Goodwin said. “Pictures of great scenery — you already know that. A guy on a bike? Tell me something I don’t know. Even though there were so many positives, there are still areas we can improve.”

The report was completed by Longwood International, a market research group which Goodwin called the gold standard for tourism research. By comparing another 2014 Longwood International report to this year’s, division staff are able to show how changing advertising efforts directly impact perceptions.

“Our investment in tourism last year not only helped make these areas of growth possible, but we also have created tremendous momentum,” said Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in a news release. “While we have a lot of work to be proud of, there’s still work to be done as we collaborate with our tourism industry partners to make Wild, Wonderful West Virginia the premiere tourism destination.”

Only so many people plan to travel in a given year, and they only spend so much money. Goodwin likens West Virginia’s reach for a bigger slice of that pie to a fist fight. Right now, the Mountain State and North Carolina are duking it out.

Currently, North Carolina is the state’s biggest competition. The report surveyed more than 1,500 people to evaluate their perceptions of West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina.

More survey respondents said West Virginia was a good value for the money it would cost to come here than other states asked about except North Carolina — 56 percent of respondents said North Carolina was a good value while 46 percent said the same about West Virginia.

Survey respondents found several shortcomings with West Virginia: well-known destinations and landmarks, exciting nightlife, shopping and a variety of dining options. As the division moves forward, Goodwin said it should focus on improving perceptions of those tourism areas.

“The best way I can describe it is we gutted the house, absolutely gutted,” Goodwin said. “We didn’t just rip out the bathroom counter or I renovated the kitchen and bought a new stove. We gutted it down to the studs and now we’re building back the things that are the most important things to take tourism to the new level.”

Reach Jake Jarvis at 304-348-7939, jake.jarvis@wvgazettemail.com, Facebook.com/newsroomjake or follow @NewsroomJake on Twitter.

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