U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., was the keynote speaker Tuesday, the second day of the three-day Governor’s Conference on Tourism at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center.
Rockefeller said many people don’t understand how important tourism is to West Virginia’s economy.
“The tourism industry — and it is an industry — accounts for more than 44,000 jobs in West Virginia and more than $4 billion in consumer spending,” he said.
When he was governor in the late 1970s and early 1980s, each county ran its own tourism program, but they often lacked the resources and expertise to promote them. Rockefeller consolidated contiguous counties into regional agencies, which allowed them to pull resources and create a more vital tourism industry in the state.
“Tourism is a big activity and it brings in big returns,” Rockefeller said. “It’s vitally important to West Virginia’s economy and our state’s pride. As chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, I have been able to pass legislation to support and expand tourism because of its enormous impact on local economies.”
Other speakers Tuesday included David Huether, senior vice president of economics and research for the U.S. Travel Association; Scott Widmeyer, president and chief executive officer of Widmeyer Communications; and Keith Burdette, secretary of the West Virginia Department of Commerce.
Wednesday’s events include breakout sessions on customer diversity, matching advertising programs and West Virginia online.
The conference moves around the state every year, said Jacqueline Proctor, deputy commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Tourism.
Bob O’Connor, a Jefferson County, W.Va., author, writes books on the Civil War that focus on local characters and events. He’s been attending the conferences for 10 years.
“It’s an opportunity for me to do some networking and get new ideas,” he said.
Tyson Compton, president of the Huntington, W.Va., Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Cara Hedrich, the agency’s marketing director, said they came to learn and to promote Cabell County and the western part of the state.
Huntington has Camden Park, West Virginia’s only amusement park, which draws thousands of visitors every year, Compton said. It has the largest radio and technology museum east of the Mississippi River and the Huntington Mall, the state’s largest.