The West Virginia Tourism Commission and leaders in the industry from around the state converged on Shepherdstown for the three-day West Virginia Governor's Conference on Tourism at the Clarion Hotel. On the group's agenda were a variety of workshops and meetings to share ideas and discuss improvements to the state's thriving tourism business.
Tourism Commissioner and local businessman Ron Marcus explained that the conference happens once per year as an annual meeting for the commission. He expressed his pleasure that so many came to attend here in the Eastern Panhandle.
"It's rare that the conference takes place in Jefferson County," he said. "Usually we travel to Charleston."
Keynote speaker for the event was Sen. Jay Rockefeller who addressed representatives from dozens of counties and businesses from around the state. Rockefeller shared his thoughts on the importance of tourism in West Virginia.
"Tourism is vitally important to West Virginia's economy and our state's pride," he said. "People don't understand how important tourism is. They think it just 'happens,'" he told a packed room Tuesday morning.
Rockefeller shared that tourism in West Virginia accounts for more than 44,000 jobs and $4 billion a year in consumer spending. "That's $12 million a day," he said. "You all are hard core and you work hard," he said.
Rockefeller commented on a variety of examples of legislation that he has helped push to improve the industry including the Travel Promotion Act to help bring more international visitors to the United States. He also referenced work on providing small airports throughout the state. He said that air travel is up in West Virginia, counter to the national downward trend.
Rockefeller also spoke of Corridor H and the need to finish that road project which would then open up the entire state for future tourism. The increase in broadband connections throughout the state to allow small businesses to make use of the internet is also a top priority for the Senator.
"Ninety-seven percent of Americans shop on line but only 63 percent of businesses have websites," he shared. "West Virginia's percentage is a little lower."
Also speaking at Tuesday morning's gathering was Clarion owner Ken Lowe. Lowe stressed the need for individuals to be honest in their habits and their business dealings. "Good credibility is key," he shared with regard to his business success.
"You don't ever have to remember what you said when you say the truth," Lowe advised.
Lowe also shared the importance of gaming to the tourism industry.
"Money for the grant programs comes from gaming," he said. He went on to say that without horse racing and greyhound racing, there would be no gaming. He shared statistics dealing with those employed locally in the horse racing industry either directly or indirectly.
There was not considerable mention of the upcoming ballot initiative in Maryland regarding legalizing gaming in the neighboring state. A question was asked of the Penn National gaming staff who were present at Monday's grant awards vote; however, the representatives simply said that they are hoping the measure is defeated. They did say they are campaigning against the initiative. They also shared that if the Maryland issue passes, the competitive markets in that state could be up and running by the second quarter.