By Stephen Smoot
Last week, local officials and volunteers met to start the process of putting together the new Pendleton County Convention and Visitors Bureau, or CVB.
For years, the CVB worked in conjunction with the Pendleton County Chamber of Commerce. Like many other counties, this created some conveniences but also additional hassles. As Gene McConnell, county commission president, explained, “The chamber of commerce is a private entity, but the CVB is a state construct.” Blending the two under one umbrella created headaches in terms of complying with the law on keeping separate finances.
“Look at the EDA, CVB, and Chamber of Commerce as a tripod,” McConnell explained. “The EDA attracts business and the CVB attracts tourists, but different kinds of businesses from the EDA. The Chamber of Commerce maintains the business community that we have.”
With different missions and strategies, it made no sense to keep the CVB and chamber together. Last August, the decision was made to separate them into distinct entities.
Laura Brown, Pendleton County economic and community development director, explained that a CVB is “essential to our county since 30 percent of it is national forest land.” With some of the state’s most spectacular attractions in the county, a CVB will help to expand the scope of local tourism.
One of the expected jobs of the CVB, according to Brown, includes keeping “an office open downtown for tourists and other visitors to the county at all times.”
She added that local collections of hotel and motel taxes collected until the end of the last fiscal year rose to their highest level ever. This indicates the health of the local tourism economy, but the taxes collected also serve as a resource to operate the CVB.
The meeting last week helped the new board take initial key steps, such as starting the process of hiring an executive director. Brown explained that “we’re just getting the board organized” and also that her role lay in helping the process, not serving in an official capacity.
Two trends over the past several years have also pushed local officials into action.
First, over the past 10 years, West Virginia has seen tourist spending expand even as much of the rest of the nation has seen declines. According to a state commissioned visitor impact study, destination spending jumped 30 percent between 2020 and 2021. Within those numbers, hotel and motel spending jumped nearly 50 percent while campground spending increased by almost a third. Food service spending increased 21 percent as well.
McConnell noted that “the state had made a strong commitment to develop tourism.” He added that forward thinking strategies, such as acquiring the musical rights to “Country Roads,” demonstrated that commitment would continue.
A robust tourism economy could help to reverse some locally negative trends as well. Pendleton County lost 20.2 percent of its population between 2010 and 2020. McConnell explained that if that trend continues the county itself could be unsustainable by 2040.
He also said that much work in different fields needs to be done, but added that “Calvin Coolidge said that if you can’t do everything at once, at least do something at once.” That said, McConnell also emphasized that efforts must be careful to include the perspectives of people who have lived in the area for years and families that have remained in the region for generations.
But McConnell also stated that “the cost of doing something is less than the cost of doing nothing.”
In the short term, the CVB plans to focus on a core mission of boosting tourism. It will focus on activities, such as rock climbing, where Pendleton County has a competitive advantage over most of the rest of the state. The long term strategy, however, will focus on making Pendleton County a destination location, as opposed to a place tourists drive through on the way to somewhere else.
One positive county development, the proliferation of Air BNB options, will serve as part of the cornerstone for future growth.
Resumes for the position of executive director will be accepted until Oct. 19.