FAYETTEVILLE, W.Va. – With nine West Virginia counties coping with a six-week-old water-contamination crisis, questions remain about how the chemical leak will impact tourism businesses in the rest of the state.

Dave Arnold, owner of Adventures on the Gorge in Fayette County, said he and his partners are concerned about the perception problems created for the rafting company they’ve operated on the New River for more than 25 years.

Courtesy Class VI

Rafting companies are trying to get the word out that the New River is upstream from the Elk River contamination point.

“In my opinion, the ‘Wild, Wonderful’ brand has been tarnished to some extent,” said Arnold. “Is it 1 percent, 2 percent, 10 percent? And how will that convert to bookings?”

Arnold was on hand Monday at the Charleston Civic Center for the Travel South Showcase that included more than 500 tourism professionals considering West Virginia for possible bookings.

Considering his business is all about water, there is reason to raise questions. Arnold said he has received calls from across the region asking if the New River is safe to raft.

“If you’re from Michigan or you’re from Virginia or Washington, D.C., or whatever, you may not know whether the Elk is below the New River, above the New River, whether it’s a confluence stream,” Arnold said.

That’s why his company turned proactive by getting word out that the New River is safe to raft.

“We e-mailed a quarter-million people—which is the biggest mailing list we have—telling them, with a map, that the Elk is downstream,” Arnold said.

However, Arnold said they can’t educate every potential visitor about the situation.

“The bottom line is people have a lot of choices,” he said. “Will they prioritize West Virginia or are they afraid of it? That’s the big question.”

It’s a question Arnold said won’t be answered until later this year when his company starts taking reservations for the 2014 rafting season.

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  • Raft Chic

    I doubt Dave has answered a customer call in over 20 years! The combined river companies have been losing numbers since merger took place,even with large amounts of state matching grant funds funneled their way.

    • Dave

      First off I answer the phones a lot as we have an overload system that when reservations get busy managers take overloads. Two, we are not talking just rafting. Our business has all kinds of things to do and we have had growth every year. Yes you are right sadly rafting numbers are down since 2000. We will see what happens.

  • Cory Boothe

    I believe that Dave Arnold was simply stating that we, as West Virginians, have been tarnished by this man made disaster and it will have lasting effects that will possibly translate into lower numbers for the whitewater industry this season.

    No one mentioned bailouts or compensatory funds except the two people who commented.

  • Teufel

    kinda sounds like someone like to have a bump in state tourism funds

  • Brian

    I'm waiting to see how many want a bailout/stimulus package. Reality check. . . how many people have died due to the spill? None that I'm aware of. How many rafters die while rafting on average for the past 10 years? More than with this chemical spill. I do believe the businesses have a legitimate revenue concern but IMO monetary compensation is wrong compared to those whose in home water was affected.