Randy Yohe Published

Tourism Budget Review Highlights Pro Sports Partners, Waterfalls Trail, Tourism School Classes


On Monday, Tourism Secretary Chelsea Ruby gave a preview of the state’s $25.6 million, 2023 and 2024 tourism budgets to the interim Joint Standing Committee on Finance. She said they are flat budgets both years.

Ruby highlighted a $5.2 million federal grant earmarked for workforce development. She said the state currently employs more than 44,000 direct tourism jobs, and with expected growth, the industry will have 24,000 annual job openings.

Ruby said starting this year there will be middle and high school classes offered to teach kids about jobs in the tourism industry.

“You’ve heard all kinds of kids talk about wanting to be a doctor, a nurse, a lawyer,” Ruby said. “I bet you haven’t heard a kid say, ‘I want to go into the hospitality industry.’ And that’s something that we want to change, especially with the bright future here in West Virginia.”

Ruby explained plans for the high school tourism classes to also earn college credits as part of a career pathway program. She also said higher and non-traditional education are career pathway targets.

“We’re currently working with the higher education policy commission in the community and technical system to do a survey to really do a needs assessment and figure out where we need additional programs,” Ruby said. “Are there universities, are there institutions that could set up specialized programs? We’re figuring out where those are and will we have the funds to help them get them up and running. There will be some new certificate programs as well.”

Ruby said state tourism revenue has never been higher.

“This year we will go over $5 billion, which is the highest that the state has ever seen in traveler spending,” Ruby said. “It’s equal to about $13.6 million per day.

Regarding tourism growth throughout the state, Ruby told lawmakers that gains were not isolated among West Virginia’s nine travel regions, but impacted across the board..

“Last year, we saw growth in all of these regions,” Ruby said. “It’s not that it’s all happening in the New River Gorge or Eastern Panhandle or Southern West Virginia, this growth really continues to be widespread.”

Ruby said advertising West Virginia tourism is paying off with a continually refined effort. She said the state will target more television and radio ads in the receptive Detroit area, along with New York City and Philadelphia. She said the state is involved in strategic market partnership with professional sports teams like the NHL’s Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins.

“If you go to a game this winter there, you will see all things ‘Almost Heaven.’The reason we’re doing these two is we were looking for fall and winter opportunities,” Ruby said. “These are not only our two largest markets, but our two fastest growing markets.”

She made prominent mention of the state’s “waterfall trail” program, calling it “magic in a bottle” for tourism draws.

“There are 29 waterfalls all around the state. You don’t have to download an app, you can just check in on your phone,” Ruby said. “Since we launched it in June, I think we have had more than 20,000 check-ins to our waterfalls. We’ve had visitors from 49 states.”

“I need to figure out what the 50th state is and get someone here,” Ruby told lawmakers about the waterfall trail visitors.