HUNTINGTON — How is local tourism adjusting to the coronavirus pandemic?
Tyson Compton, executive director of the Huntington Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, says the industry has had to regroup and rework the agency’s marketing plan.
“While there are still a lot of unknowns in regard to travel right now, we are being optimistic,” he said. “Our CVB is working closely with state tourism and other industry leaders such as Southeast Tourism Society in our planning.”
Compton said travel studies that the West Virginia Division of Tourism has shared indicated that people want to travel.
“They may be changing their plans, but they want to get out there and do something,” he said.
The top two concerns travelers want to see addressed are the government lifting those travel restrictions across the country and safety issues regarding the virus.
The study showed millennials and Generation Z are less worried about cleaning protocols, screenings, crowd sizes, physical interactions and personal protective equipment (PPE). Older travelers (Baby Boomers) are more worried about these areas and will be returning to travel slower than the other generations.
“All of our local hotels, attractions and restaurants that we work with are committed to following safety guidelines and making sure that guests have a good experience,” Compton said.
The study also indicates travelers currently prefer to drive rather than fly.
“They want smaller destinations. They want fewer crowds, and they want affordable opportunities,” Compton said. “Well, that is exactly what we can offer in Cabell and Wayne counties. So those issues will be addressed in our messaging.”
Barboursville Mayor Chris Tatum said his town’s CVB has also modified the way it promotes events and activities.
“We are focusing on promoting opportunities for events and activities that offer easy ways to achieve social distancing and for people to feel safe,” he said. “We have 50 trailheads for hiking, we have places all over the park to fish, we have two disc golf courses and tennis courts that are being used, and parents of kids that play softball and baseball are using Little League fields and following social distancing guidelines as well.”
Tatum says other areas being marketed by the Barboursville CVB include the local farmers market, community gardens, outdoor dining options, virtual hikes and story hours at the library.
“We are also promoting the walking tour of the village of Barboursville,” he said. “We are doing lots of creative things when it comes to marketing Barboursville and the region.”
Tatum said Barboursville is also working with four other CVBs in the Metro Valley.
“We are working with the Putnam, Charleston and Hurricane CVBs on the Route 60 Ramble,” he said.
Kelli Steele, executive director of the Putnam County Convention and Visitors Bureau, says the Route 60 Ramble initiative hopes to highlight water access points, trails and lakes, which Steele says are underused resources in the state.
“After months of being at home, people are eager to get outside, but we know many want to do it safely with social distancing in place, and this initiative offers that opportunity,” she said.
The initiative was named after the historic, well-traveled road that goes through the southern part of the state.
“‘Ramble’ is kind of an old term for an old meandering walk, and that’s what we really wanted to encourage, where people kind of take their time and take a slow trip and sort of get to know the region a little better,” Steele said.
Steele said research shows people feel more comfortable traveling to rural places.
“That’s what is great about West Virginia and our region in particular is that we have so many rural communities that both in-state and out-of-state travelers are looking to explore,” she said.
Toward late summer once school starts, Steele says the CVBs will focus on public art and historic sites.
“We hoped that by bringing attention to these sites that someone in Charleston might want to walk a trail in Hurricane or someone in Huntington might do a drivable public art tour in downtown Charleston,” she said.
Though the project is principally designed for regional residents enduring the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s also a resource for those visiting from other areas.
“Many wish to make summer travel plans, but are hoping to find safe, socially distant tourism options,” Steele said.
The Route 60 Ramble particularly recognizes the nature of post-COVID-19 travel.
“There’s so much to explore in our own backyard, and the Route 60 Ramble is a fun and creative way to show people all of the things that are within a short drive from where they are,” Steele said.
All of Route 60 Ramble’s highlights can be found on the West Virginia Metro Valley Instagram.