State ponders tourism sector response to water emergency - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

State ponders tourism sector response to water emergency

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The state Division of Tourism is considering what actions to take to help the tourism sector recover from the nine-county water emergency, Tourism Commissioner Betty Carver said.

According to the division's mission statement, one if its goals is to promote a positive state image.

Asked if the division will conduct polling or convene focus groups to determine the impact the emergency had on the state's image and how to address it, Carver said, "we're always trying to do a litmus test."

But, Carver said the division had not determined if it will do any new research.

"The Tourism Commission has not had the opportunity to meet since the emergency," she said. "That is the kind of conversation that will be happening — what do we need to do to gauge this? Tourism recognizes how important this is because we are all in this boat together.

"We will carefully plan how we present this," Carver said. "While this was extremely unfortunate, we want to convey that it occurred in a regional water system, not in every water source in the entire state. We have to be sure how the message is developed. We're ready to do everything we can."

She said the division will continue to work closely with its private-sector partners. 

"We will look at anything we can do to address their needs, to help them," she said.

One focus will be to make sure the division's front-line sales personnel, who greet visitors at welcome centers and staff tourism's call center, are always updated and educated about everything the state has to offer. Carver said the staff will reassure people that "what they historically know about West Virginia is still there."

"The parks, the Cass trains. ... And they'll look for opportunities to point out continued improvements of parks and resorts such as Canaan (Valley Resort State Park) and new resources like the new Boy Scout's summit," she said. "We'll work with our partners and with (Department of Commerce) Secretary (Keith) Burdette's direction, of course." 

Jacqueline Proctor, the division's director of communications, said although the size of the water emergency was not the size of the 2010 Gulf oil spill, "the division recognizes first and foremost that this event had a significant impact on the citizens of the affected areas."

"As we understand from our welcome center staff, travelers altered their plans within the state but did not cancel," Proctor said. "As such, we are hopeful about the image of West Virginia as a travel destination."

According to the division, 46,400 people are employed in the tourism sector in West Virginia, accounting for $5.1 billion in economic activity.