By Tina Alvey
The tourism industry is slowly climbing back to the levels of positive economic impact it once enjoyed in the region, according to Kara Dense, executive director of the Greenbrier County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB).
Delivering her agency’s annual report to the Lewisburg City Council last week, Dense said that the most recent official figures available from the state date back to 2010, when tourism had a $181 million impact on the county. She said she expects the 2012 data, when released later this year, to show higher numbers.
In part, Dense bases her belief on the CVB’s steadily increasing visitor count, with in-person visits to the Greenbrier Valley Visitors Center in downtown Lewisburg at 36,417 for the fiscal year just closed. The CVB’s website boasted 89,405 unique visits during that same time frame.
The agency’s annual report shows that nearly 2,000 people are employed in the tourism industry in Greenbrier County, with a payroll totaling $89 million annually. The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs remains the county’s largest single employer, according to the most recent employment data compiled by WorkForce West Virginia.
Most of the visitors to the county come from Mountain Mama herself; West Virginians comprise 58 percent of Greenbrier County’s tourists. Other states in the top seven are Virginia (11 percent), Ohio (5 percent), Pennsylvania and North Carolina (each 3 percent) and Kentucky and Florida (each 2 percent).
In keeping with those figures, the CVB focuses much of its marketing efforts on Washington, D.C., Roanoke and Richmond, Va., Columbus, Ohio, and Charleston.
The agency also provides promotional funds to several events and organizations in the county each year. In 2012-13 mini-grants totaling around $30,000 went to such events as the Lewisburg Literary Festival and the Lemonade and Lavender Homes Tour and such organizations as Main Street White Sulphur Springs and Carnegie Hall.
Dense reported that more than 40 groups have used the visitors center for events, conferences and seminars in the past year.
She noted that technology plays an increasing role in the CVB’s marketing efforts, pointing to a recent redesign of the agency’s website and outreach through such social media outlets as Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Bucking that trend, however, Dense said the CVB has reverted to a paper newsletter rather than relying on electronic means to get out quarterly updates to its partners. She said she found that often e-mails weren’t being opened, making that method of communicating less effective than needed.
“So, we went back to good, old-fashioned paper newsletters,” Dense said.
Likewise, the CVB had begun to pull back on printing runs for its visitors’ guides, initially printing only 75,000 last year in the expectation that more people would prefer to obtain the information online. But, due to demand, the agency ended up commissioning a second printing run of 30,000 for the 48-page publication.
“Our target market — they really want to have that guide in their hands,” Dense said.
Asked by City Council member Joshua Baldwin what else the region needs by way of amenities to attract even more tourism dollars, Dense said she believes a smaller convention hotel would fill a gap, accommodating the more modest conventions and retreats for which The Greenbrier is out of reach financially.
“It could be a huge draw,” Dense said of a smaller hotel with meeting and banquet facilities. “That’s the one thing I think we are kind of missing.”
She also noted that the one complaint she hears about Greenbrier Valley amenities is that there isn’t enough for kids to do, which translates into the region attracting an older tourist class rather than younger families.
All in all, though, Dense said, “We are truly the envy of much of the state.”
For more information about the Greenbrier Valley and the Greenbrier County CVB, visit www.greenbrierwv.com or call 800-833-2068.
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