GRAFTON— Since the merging of the area’s Convention and Visitors Bureaus (CVB) with the Visit Mountaineer County CVB, the group has been hard at work exploring the potential of Taylor County and coming up with goals that will help the area excel and attract more tourist.
Recently, President and CEO of Visit Mountaineer Country CVB, Susan Riddle led a Tourism Forum at Espresso Yourself Coffee House, located on Main Street.
The community was encouraged to stop in throughout the day and learn about how tourism can boost the economy, as well as share ideas and discuss areas of focus that would be beneficial to Taylor County.
“It is our mission to increase the tourism economy by marketing and selling the destination to our guests by ‘wowing’ them and encouraging them to stay one more night and spend one more dollar,” shared Riddle.
Riddle elaborated on their mission statement by explaining that tourism equals big business.
According to Riddle, in 2019 Taylor County received $12.5 million in direct spending sales from tourism. She noted that the sales number factors in more than just lodging.
“It includes other cost of travelling as well, such as fuel along the way and stops made at eateries,” she explained. “In addition, tourism last year brought in 150 jobs and $111,000 in state tax dollars just in Taylor County. In the three counties we serve, which are Preston, Monongalia and Taylor, there was nearly $238 million collected for tourism spending.”
Continuing, Riddle said that the counties collectively brought in $16 million in state taxes.
“So, now we are starting to see why tourism is such an important business. It is finally starting to get the attention it should have had a while ago,” she exclaimed. “We can do a lot of good with our portion of those dollars.”
Next to speak was the Tourism Coordinator for Visit Mountaineer Country CVB, Michaela Flohr.
Flohr explored some of the goals the CVB would like to focus on for Taylor County.
“It was one of our first goals to reach 500 followers on our Visit Taylor County Facebook page by the end of July. We have surpassed that number in just two weeks, which is incredible,” she commented.
She went on to discuss the Civil War Trial System, divulging that the area is home to three Civil War Memorials that, with the proper care and promotion, would draw in history lovers from all around.
Flohr and Riddle both touched on their excitement about being able to integrate Tygart Lake State Park into the CVB tourism tool kit.
“We really want to help Taylor County tap into what the CVB is doing. Being able to promote a state park is a big deal for us and something I’ve been hoping to be able to do for a while now. So, when we decided to collaborate with Taylor County, I knew the park would be a big area of focus for us,” said Riddle.
The group has plans to work with Tygart Lake State Park and Marina to extend the summer lake levels, prolonging the boating season and overall use of the lake each summer.
“We know what a treasure we have here with the lake, and we are going to get the word out,” proclaimed Riddle.
She then stated that while the CVB doesn’t have all the answers, they have the tools and determination to get people working together.
“We can get that needle moving further if we just work together,” she added.
Riddle opened the floor to attendees to discuss Taylor County’s strengths and weaknesses. Many agreeing that a low population, poor road conditions and a lack of broadband were some of the area’s major faults.
“Unfortunately there isn’t much we can do about the roads, but yes, tourism becomes more successful when the roadways are better maintained. We have been in contact with individuals at the state road and are working closely with them to remedy this problem,” Riddle informed.
In addressing the broadband complaint, Riddle shared that she believes it is a huge factor for those who are traveling, saying that people expect and depend on connectivity and that we have to hold the people responsible accountable to get the jobs done.
She also voiced that business signage and more of an online presence are necessary ingredients for success.
“More than 411,000 people used our website in 2019. Business owner and organizations should really be open minded about sharing their events on our website. The more visible we make Mountaineer Country the better for all those communities we interact with,” Riddle announced. “The more we share, the more the audience grows for everybody.”
When the group explored the strengths of the area, Riddle told them to think of what makes their destination so special, and it was the community’s history and heritage that dominated the conversation.
“The heritage you have here is something you can’t replace. You can’t make it up. It is a blessing for sure,” she remarked.
She extended by saying that the people of Taylor County are truly its greatest strength.
“The people are like the secret sauce, and together we can make anything happen,” Riddle broadcasted.
Be a part of Taylor County’s success, and be sure to like, share and follow the Visit Taylor County Facebook page at, https://www.facebook.com/VisitTaylorCounty. To learn more about the CVB and how they are working to make the areas they serve a top destination for travelers, head over to visitmountaineercountry.com.