W.Va. Tourism Campaign Aims to Attract Out-of-Staters, Millenials

Its 1,700-foot arch made it the longest single-span arch bridge in the world.

While many state agencies were enduring cuts during the 2015 legislative session, the Division of Tourism actually saw an increase of about $4 million, totaling $7 million for the marketing and advertising budget. That money, however, was dedicated to creating and implementing a tourism marketing campaign titled “Real. Wild and Wonderful West Virginia”.

West Virginia’s Commissioner for Tourism Goodwin, Amy Goodwin, explained Monday at Tourism Day at the Capitol that the campaign is focused on attracting a specific demographic to West Virginia, a younger more vibrant group focused on exploring and experiencing: Millennials.

“Well we know this: Millennials are the fastest growing demographic in the travel and tourism industry,” Goodwin said. “They want things that are real. They want craft beer. They are farm-to-table. They grew up wanting experiences and not things. We’re really honing in, really looking towards that demographic.”

Millennials have an estimated 200 billion dollar annual buying power, but Goodwin says the state has to rethink how they’re reaching that key group.

As the Division of Tourism increasingly targets Millennials, they’ve adopted a new, more tech-savvy approach to get young people to explore all the places the state has to offer, the GoToWV app. This app allows users to plans trips, research events and even explore sites across the state.

“You can look at all the wonderful things that we have in the state. You can create your own agenda or where you want to go, your favorite spots,” Goodwin said. “You can learn a little bit more right in the palm of your hand because this is what we know: it is mobile people are mobile, and they want this information right this second.”


Credit West Virginia Division of Tourism
The West Virginia Division of Tourism’s mobile app that allows users to explore travel opportunities around the state.

The Division of Tourism isn’t just considering mobility in the technological sense, but also how to get people mobile, making West Virginia appealing out-of-state tourists.

“Our meat and potato markets are Pittsburgh, Columbus, Charlotte, Roanoke. Think of those states that are right beside us, that we would get a traveler to come for one or two or three days,” Goodwin said. “Our commercials run in those areas. We take out a lot of marketing pieces in publications that focus on particular areas of interest: biking, whitewater rafting, hiking, culinary arts.”

While Goodwin says the “meat and potatoes” markets lay outside the state, the bread and butter of West Virginia tourism lies in its many outdoor sporting and recreational activities.

“No other state can beat us on hiking, biking, whitewater rafting, fishing, and camping,” Goodwin said. “We’re really taking great opportunities with our marketing and advertising to show those real experiences. But on the other hand people aren’t coming to West Virginia to do just one thing. With our marketing and advertising we’re also doing a layered approach. It’s not just whitewater rafting, it’s dinner, maybe hitting up a craft beer facility, going to see a show, going to see Mountain Stage.”

Because the Real WV campaign is ongoing, there aren’t yet any hard numbers on the campaign’s impact.  However, according to the 2014 Accountability and Image Study conducted by Longwood International, previous marketing campaigns for West Virginia Tourism have a return on investment of 7 to 1.

“Make no mistake about it, when you look at all these posters, we look like we’re the fun people in WV, but we’re the money people,” Goodwin said. “We employ 46,000 people throughout the state of WV and bring in $5.1 billion to the state of West Virginia. We’re a serious player.”

While Governor Tomblin has proposed yet another budget cut for state agencies, including Tourism, Goodwin says she’ll continue to work with lawmakers to educate them on the dollars her agency bring in to the state.