The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

November 27, 2013

Cold Cash

The Register-Herald

— Say what you want about winter, and we say plenty we can’t print when we’re shoveling our car out of a snowbank, it always wins us over in the end.

One of the many beautiful aspects of our state are its seasonal changes. Winter is a reminder to all of us that spring awaits, a season that graciously provides us a sense of rebirth that’s both physical and spiritual.

As we prepare for Thanksgiving Day, we also want to celebrate what winter brings to southern West Virginia in a way that is less philosophical and more hard-headed: Tourism dollars.

We were reminded of that this week when Snowshoe Mountain announced that it was ready to open for the season, one of five skiing and snowboarding destinations that continue to grow and prosper in the state.

The snow industry, as it were, is responsible for an estimated $250 million annually in tourism dollars, creating 5,000 jobs at ski resorts and related businesses. The ski industry is an important component of a bigger picture in West Virginia tourism, which is now bringing in $5.1 billion to the state every year.

A report for the West Virginia Division of Tourism that was released last month brought the growing importance of tourist dollars to the state into perspective.

Overall, the report by Dean Runyan Associates of Portland, Ore., breaks down West Virginia tourism like this:

-  Day travel, 50 percent

-  Hotel/motel: 31 percent

-  Private home: 16 percent

-  Vacation home: 2 percent

-  Campground: 1 percent

The report also breaks out nine regions in the state. Here in southern West Virginia, it is the New River/Greenbrier Valley Region. Counties included are Fayette, Greenbrier, McDowell, Mercer, Monroe, Raleigh, Summers and Wyoming.

Direct travel spending in our region rose from $536 million in 2004 to $702 million in 2012, an increase that reflects a heightened awareness of the importance of tourism to our economy in the southern part of the state.

It’s difficult to overstate the power of these numbers. As the coal industry continues to fall, and the promises of extracting natural gas from the Marcellus shale remain just promises, it is critical that we continue to diversify our regional economy. It is most satisfying to see tourism playing an ever larger role in doing just that.

So we find it appropriate this week to recognize the ski industry, the white water rafting and kayaking businesses, the hotels and motels, the Boy Scouts, the restaurants and all other businesses and people who are working to make West Virginia a destination for so many people from other states and even other countries.

You truly deserve our thanks.