CHARLESTON, W.Va. – It could be weeks before tourism officials can calculate the economic impact of the water-contamination crisis here in West Virginia.
Alisa Bailey, the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau’s executive director, said service-industry workers and businesses were already feeling the pinch, four days after 4-methylcyclohexane methane leaked into the Elk River.
“The short-term impacts are on the frontline employees who weren’t reporting to work: the wait staffs at restaurants, the house keeping at hotels, the retailers,” she said.
Most of those workers are paid hourly so their checks will take a hit. Then there are the owners who lost profits but still have to pay the bills at the end of the month.
“It’s a big domino effect as far as the short-term impacts,” Bailey said.
Equally concerning is the potential long-term damage done by national coverage of West Virginia’s capital city having unsafe water.
“We are concerned about the overall perception for the traveling public when we try to get people to have meetings here or we try to get leisure travelers to spend their weekends here,” Bailey said. “What negative impact that might have upon people who have hundreds of choices of places to spend their leisure and meeting dollars.”
The water contamination story is not only national news but international as well. Bailey said she heard from local retailers who have conducted interviews with news agencies from China and Greece.
She said this kind of attention could harm some of the hard-won progress the city has made in the past few years selling Charleston as a destination.
She plans to meet with the heads of the area’s other convention and visitor’s bureaus once water systems are restored.
“What do we do to refresh our brand, to assure people that the water is safe and it’s a great place to visit or have a meeting?”