CHESTER, W.Va. — State Commissioner of Tourism Chelsea Ruby told industry leaders Monday that she’ll ask the state legislature to increase the Division of Tourism’s budget by $15 million next budget year.
Ruby spoke at the 2017 Governor’s Conference on Tourism taking place at the Mountaineer Casino and Racetrack in Chester.
Tourism’s current advertising budget is around $6 million. Ruby said that needs to more than double if West Virginia is going to have a significant impact.
“In order to put us on a national stage where we think we belong we would need about an additional $15 million—so that’s what our hope is and that’s what we’re going to be going to the legislature for and asking for in this next session,” Ruby told MetroNews affiliate WMOV Radio, which is attending the conference.
Tourism brings in about $4.1 billion a year to West Virginia and supports 45,000 jobs. Ruby said that’s a significant number but it’s not growing.
“What you see is that we are losing market share,” she said. “Last year our numbers went down and over the past four years we’ve gone down 15 percent and in that same time period every state around us has seen an increase.”
Gov. Justice asked for an additional $5 million in tourism advertising for this budget year but it was turned down by lawmakers. Ruby said if the budget remains the same the state will remain a small player in the tourism game.
“We believe if we can get that $15 million we can go on a national stage. Right now, we’re really on a small regional stage and we’re ready to take it to the next level,” she said.
Canaan Valley State Park General Manager Steve Drumheller supports the move.
“If you have more money and you can get the word out broader it’s bound to help,” Drumheller said.
Ruby is also pushing a plan that would move away from the traditional advertising matching grants that tourism businesses have competed for in West Virginia for years. She said it’s time for regional cooperation.
“If you look at the average length of stay in West Virginia it’s about half the national average. So we’re starting some new tactics to get folks to work together to promote destinations instead of specific attractions in West Virginia,” Ruby said.
Justice for months has advocated for increased funding for tourism advertising in West Virginia, frequently lamenting that the state can’t seem to compete with a televised advertising campaign for the state of Michigan.