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Editorial: Tourism plan outlines opportunities for state

Dec. 09, 2012 @ 10:35 PM

West Virginians know that the Mountain State is an outdoor recreation paradise.

Skiing and whitewater rafting get much of the attention, but the state's natural resources for hunting, fishing, hiking, biking and camping are extensive, too.

Local residents also know that West Virginia is a good place to retire or own a second home, with beautiful locales, a lower cost of living and easy access to much of the Eastern Seaboard and the Midwest.

But many people outside the state do not know what West Virginia has to offer, and that is why a new study concludes that the state has great potential to increase tourism and market itself to retirees.

The West Virginia Ten Year Tourism Plan was completed this fall for the state Division of Tourism, and the study provides a solid roadmap for boosting the state's tourism industry and image as well.

By national standards, West Virginia has a fairly small tourism industry.

The study estimates the economic impact of travel and tourism in the state at $4.27 billion for 2010. But a review of the "Power of Travel" assessment by the U.S. Travel Association shows neighboring states such as Ohio and Virginia have three or four times the travel spending of West Virginia, and in California the annual impact is about $90 billion.

But the 10-year plan maintains there is a lot of room for the Mountain State to grow, even without beaches or Disneyland.

In particular, West Virginia can take advantage of the national trend of travelers taking shorter, but more frequent trips. The total population of our bordering states is more than 42 million people, and with vast public lands, a strong state park system, mountain elevations and world-class whitewater, West Virginia has great potential for outdoor getaways.

The study stresses that the Boy Scout's new Summit Bechtel Reserve in Raleigh County, which opens next year to host 200,000 visitors for the National Scout Jamboree, will certainly bolster that profile.

"I think one of the stronger points in the entire report is it talks a lot about our existing products and how we can strengthen and further develop them," Tourism Commissioner Betty Carver told the Charleston Daily Mail. "We know every county in the state has potential -- there is recreation, culture and heritage available in every corner of our state."

But taking advantage of those assets will require investment, and the plan lays out a list of short-term and long-term action steps in each area of tourism. Those range from improving the state tourism grant program and possibly changing the way second homes are taxed to simply doing a better job of coordinating and promoting potential tourism destinations.

West Virginia has a good tourism story to tell, and it is encouraging that state officials seem ready to employ new strategies to bring more visitors to the state.

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