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.
“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.