Creativity needed to draw visitors

W.Va. Gov. Jim Justice unveiled a new marketing campaign last week, aimed at boosting the state’s tourism.

A new commercial serves as the centerpiece of the campaign, showcasing West Virginia’s natural beauty set to the John Denver classic “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”

During the announcement, Chelsea Ruby, the state tourism commissioner, explained a vast majority of first-time visitors to West Virginia do come back, but noted that only 14 percent of tourists in 2017 were coming here for the first time.

The new campaign is set to spend approximately $3 million this summer, running the advertisement in several out-of-state markets, including Columbus, Ohio; Harrisburg, Pa.; Lancaster, Pa.; and Pittsburgh; as well as Baltimore, Charlotte, N.C., Cleveland, Richmond, Va., Roanoke, Va. and Washington, D.C.

Billboards, radio, print and digital media also will be involved, and state tourism officials already have been making good use of social media.

It’s a good start. I can’t tell you how many times I see television commercials for Myrtle Beach or Michigan played in our market.

Those areas know that people from West Virginia have a higher rate of visitation, and are likely to return.

West Virginia has definitely had a reputation over the years, some realistic and some undeserved.

It’s people are known as hard-working individuals who put in long hours to provide for their families.

It is known for the natural beauty of its mountains and rivers, its state parks, the availability of outdoor activities and more.

By showcasing the positives of today, hopefully the negatives of yesterday can be forgotten to some extent.

People who have never been here need to see the West Virginia of the 21st century.

Hopefully, this new campaign will do just that.

The governor wanted more than the full $7 million set aside by the Legislature this year, but that will have to be looked at later on down the road.

In the meantime, there are always opportunities to promote the state if people are just a little more creative.

Sometimes, that means using private financing programs or even the aforementioned social media.

Companies such as Homer Laughlin bring a great many visitors each year for those interested in purchasing its Fiestaware line.

College athletics draws players and fans alike from across the country as their favorite teams travel to Morgantown, Huntington and even the Wheeling area.

Some of our state’s restaurants and food items have even garnered their own fame.

People from Pittsburgh have been known to visit this area for a particular restaurant, for example. An Ohio Valley native published a book last year telling the history of the pepperoni roll, as well as providing various recipes of the West Virginia staple.

West Virginia State Parks offers the Very Important Parks Person program, for those who wish to visit our state parks. There’s also a hiking program for residents or visitors who wish to trek through our numerous hiking trails.

West Virginia has been featured on television programs, such as “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” where various parts of the state, and its people, are showcased.

The best way, in my mind, to promote the Mountain State is for all of us to tell our stories.

We don’t necessarily need a million-dollar marketing campaign, either.

With today’s technology, we are in contact with people from around the world, showcasing our lives and our adventures.

Whether we post photos and video of our experiences, our families, or just our daily lives. For that matter, every trip we take, there is a chance to share West Virginia with the world.

As West Virginians, we all have a role we can play in promoting our home state.

All it takes is a little creativity.

(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)

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