Showcase brings revenue, tourism pros to West Virginia - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Showcase brings revenue, tourism pros to West Virginia

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JIM WORKMAN / The State Journal JIM WORKMAN / The State Journal
A luncheon sponsored by the Hatfield-McCoy Trails featured actors portraying the famous feuding families who served as greeters and a concert by “America’s Got Talent” winner, Logan native Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. A luncheon sponsored by the Hatfield-McCoy Trails featured actors portraying the famous feuding families who served as greeters and a concert by “America’s Got Talent” winner, Logan native Landau Eugene Murphy Jr.

Just when West Virginia and especially the Kanawha Valley needed a boost of good publicity, Travel South USA brought its Domestic Showcase to town Feb. 23-26.

The timing of the event, which had been in the planning stages for several months, came about six weeks after a chemical spill into the Elk River in Charleston, setting off a water crisis that still hangs over the customers of West Virginia American Water, which services nearly 300,000 people from its plant on the Elk.

More than 500 tourism professionals and journalists descended upon the state, hosted by the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau and the West Virginia Division of Tourism.

Attendees participated in business appointments and "familiarization tours" stretching across the state, headquartered in Charleston but including nearby areas of interest such as the New River Gorge Bridge and all points north, south, east and west of the capital city.

Cities that host Travel South showcases realize an immediate impact of between $650,000 and $800,000 and in excess of $500,000 in editorial media coverage, studies show.

"Bringing Travel South Showcase to the city is the best way to introduce or reintroduce Charleston and the state to them," said Alisa Bailey, Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau president.

Travel South is a regional tourism organization that represents 11 states in the southeastern part of the United States: West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Kentucky.

Danny Jones, mayor of Charleston, was glad his city played as primary host to more than 500 tourism operators, travel journalists and other tourism professionals.

"They're a fun bunch," he said. "Hopefully they'll bring a lot of business back and we'll reciprocate and everybody will be happy. I'm very excited about it."

Having people from outside West Virginia commenting positively about the area provided plenty of hope for Mountain State representatives.  

"This has spurred my confidence quite a bit," Jones said. 

Despite concerns about water quality in Charleston, there was no apparent black cloud hanging over the event.

"I can only speak about myself and City Hall, but I feel the water is safe," Jones said. "When the water testing comes back well, maybe we can boost confidence even more. I think so and I hope so."

"I heard about the water on the news, and I was a little leery coming here," said showcase participant Malika Polk-Lee, chief administrative officer at the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola, Miss. "I heard that it was released, but there was some hype about it. But the hotel assured us. 

"I think that the county wouldn't have released it if there was any harm to come from it. That made me feel better."

Charleston is in the process of a significant improvement on its tourism-related properties, including an estimated $50 million renovation of the Charleston Civic Center that will be funded by a half-cent tax.

"The half cent tax will benefit it and will make this place a much more updated place to go," Jones said of the Civic Center. 

Jones also touted an estimated $45 million additional investments in Charleston, including local hotel properties and $7 million in upgrades at Charleston Town Center mall.

"Since I've been in my position we've targeted tourism as an area of expansion," Jones explained. 

"Tourism is something that nobody can debate. No one is going to get into an argument about it." 

"There's no mountaintop removal, no fracking, no chemicals in the water. it's something that everyone can agree on." 

Liz Bittner, Travel Showcase executive director, pointed to the vast array of visitors involved: bus companies, tour operators, suppliers, destination marketers, convention and visitors bureaus and travel service providers — "the ancillary groups that support tourism by telling our story in media and promotions," she explained.

One of the first time visitors to West Virginia was Polk-Lee, of the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center.

"We're here to make some sales for the museum," she said with a hopeful smile. "We're a state-of-the-art museum that has been open for five years. It's very interactive."

B.B. King, the internationally known blues guitarist, stops by occasionally for shows in King's historic club "Ebony," which is the site of the museum's music events.

Fans and music lovers worldwide need to know about that availability, Polk-Lee said. 

"That's why we're here, to get the word out," she said. "It's one of the greatest tourist attractions in the Mississippi Delta. We can provide music and catering (at the club) and give visitors that real juke-joint feel in the club. Mr. King comes home for a Homecoming Festival and an intimate concert in the club later that evening."

Other attendees included Sun Studio, Graceland and the Memphis CVB (Memphis, Tenn.), Little Rock (Ark.) CVB, Paula Deen Enterprises (Savannah, Ga.), Shreveport-Bossier CVB (Louisiana), the Billy Graham Library (Charlotte, N.C.) along with West Virginia destinations such as Tamarack (Beckley), Oglebay Resort (Wheeling) and The Greenbrier (White Sulphur Springs).