November 2, 2022
The Greenbrier Valley is known for its scenic beauty, for its abundance of open space, its small-town culture, and wealth of outdoor recreation. Given these assets, it’s no surprise that the tourism industry is a main economic driver for our region. We’ve dedicated this blog to review some market data, outline a few opportunities, and to provide resources for business development in the industry.
As the pandemic began, hospitality and tourism across the nation plummeted, as urban spaces, conferences, and large crowds became unpopular with a raging virus. But because of the outdoor and small-town assets of West Virginia and particularly the Greenbrier Valley – we did not experience this dramatic drop. In fact, the tourism industry saw the beginning of a spike in travel to our region. In fact, West Virginia’s tourism industry grew by 3.8% from 2019 to 2021, according to the 2021 Travel Impacts Study. Traveler spending for the state exceeded $4.9 billion in 2021 and is projected to surpass $5 billion in 2022 for the first time in State history.
With iconic attractions like the Greenbrier Resort, Mon National Forest, Snowshoe Mountain Resort and the Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory, our region draws its fair share of visitors. Our proximity to America’s newest national park is also driving visitors. It is difficult to pinpoint the total visitors, but the economic impact is more easily measured. Data for 2020, the latest data available by county level at the time of this writing, is reflected in the chart below.
|Greenbrier||Pocahontas||Monroe||Region Total||West Virginia|
|Direct Travel Spending (in millions)||$209.9||$121.3||$10||$341.2||$3,700|
|Direct Tax Receipts (millions)||$17.30||$8.90||$0.59||$26.791||$403.1|
|Direct Earnings (millions)||$95.9||$32||$2.8||$130.7||$1,100|
Direct Travel Spending: Purchases by travelers during their trip, including lodging taxes and other applicable local and state taxes, paid by the traveler at the point of sale.
Direct Employment: Employment associated with the employee earnings generated by travel expenditures; this includes both full- and part-time positions of wage and salary workers
Direct Earnings: The earnings (wage and salary disbursements, earned benefits and proprietor income) of employees and owners of businesses that are attributable to travel expenditures.
Direct Tax Receipts: Tax receipts collected by state, counties and municipalities, as levied on applicable travel-related purchases, including lodging, food and beverage service, retail goods and motor fuel, and income taxes attributable to travel industry employees.
For more reports on tourism from the WV Department of Tourism: https://wvtourism.com/information-and-press/tourism-partners/industry-resources/research-reports/
Riding high on the outdoor recreation wave, Pocahontas County was one of only two WV counties to see growth in the tourism industry from 2019 to 2020. Community leaders and industry partners have been working on a concerted effort to attract more mountain biking travel to the area. The Snowshoe Highlands Ride Center, the first and only International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) Ride Center in West Virginia, has attracted thousands of riders. Thanks to a $1.5M ARC grant for the partner network announced last month, a beginner trail system at Monday Lick will ensure Pocahontas County reaches IMBA Gold Ride Share Center status in 2024 – the first on the east coast. That stature will draw significantly more visitors and an estimated $2.5 million in additional visitor spending.
Pocahontas County is just one of many communities working to promote outdoor rec. White Sulphur Springs, Lewisburg and Ronceverte are planning further trail development to loop in downtowns, establish bike parks, dog parks, splash pads and other amenities for residents and visitors alike. The Greenbrier County Commission is nearing completion of the Meadow River Valley Rail Trail near Rainelle that will join the Fayette County portion, totaling more than 23 miles of trail. The West Virginia Scenic Trail Association is working on improvements to the Allegheny Trail, WV’s longest trail system spanning nearly 300 miles and winding through all three of the Greenbrier Valley counties. Volunteer groups are also working in Monroe County to ensure the continuation of the Hanging Rock Observatory and access to the Appalachian Trail.
Supporting outdoor rec is a large opportunity for small businesses – even when trails are on public lands. Shuttle and guide services, bike repair, outfitters and other complementary businesses are necessary and needed. When not on the trail outdoor adventurers seek great restaurants, breweries, and shopping, as well as transportation.
Business Support for Tourism
Perhaps one of the reasons that tourism businesses thrive here is the amazing support from the Convention and Visitor’s Bureaus that serve the three counties. These CVBS – Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Travel Monroe, and Greenbrier County Convention and Visitors Bureau – are working hard to grow this economic sector and support the industry. These tourism leaders are making it easy for businesses to engage with them. Tourism businesses can plug into the marketing of these organizations, and benefit from public dollars spent to promote the region. They have a varying level of programs in each county, so if you are in the tourism business, you should be in touch with the one appropriate to your area.
The importance of the tourism industry has been recognized by West Virginia as well. After elevating the Department of Tourism to a Cabinet level agency, the tourism team and the Economic Development Department work together to assist and attract businesses. A wealth of industry resources can be found here: https://wvtourism.com/information-and-press/tourism-partners/industry-resources/. For businesses that are investing in tourism products (excluding lodging) with a price tag of $1M or more for development – there is tourism sales tax credit of up to $250,000. (More here: https://westvirginia.gov/tourism-development-act/) This tax credit is further evidence that WV is investing in tourism.
In addition to tourism specific resources, the options for small business assistance (for any industry) are plentiful. Our partners at the WV Hive, the WV Small Business Development Center, and the WV Women’s Business Center are ready to help. For Monroe County specifically, check out the Startup Monroe program which just launched in partnership with Friends of Monroe, WVU Extension, and the Greenbrier Valley EDC. Financing through our micro-loan program and a multitude of other public and private organization are available. We’re happy to connect you to the resources you need.
Finally, here in the Greenbrier Valley, tourism businesses have room to grow! We have a number of ideal spots for your business location or expansion, including spaces in our industrial parks. Nestled in the heart of outdoor paradise, our Edray facility contains a 30,000-sf industrial building and 90 acres offering a tremendous opportunity. In Greenbrier County, we have nearly 40,000 square feet of space adjacent to the airport.
Hospitality Careers and Training:
As tourism grows, we get lots of questions about the real economic impact. The tourism industry is plagued by misconceptions of low paying jobs and no career advancement. Two of the top employers in the region are resorts – The Greenbrier and Snowshoe Mountain Resort. A look at their openings shows a full range of positions and the opportunities for advancement up the tourism ladder. This is a conversation often had with our CVB leaders – each of whom started in entry level positions in the field. The skills gained in the hospitality industry are transferrable to any industry. Hospitality is a ‘people’ business, and the career paths are endless. Work ethic, a friendly demeanor and a willingness to help are the basic skills it takes to enter the industry and succeed.
Interest in the tourism industry starts in our high schools with programs such as the ProStart Programs at area schools, and the Tourism Club at PCHS. New River Community & Technical College has programs in hospitality and tourism management. The WV Department of Tourism is also working on a workforce training program for this industry.
Adopting a hospitality mindset is important for all businesses where tourism is a dominant industry. The Pocahontas CVB, delivers Mountain Culture – a hospitality training for businesses that fosters a community appreciation for our culture with foundational hospitality built in – within and outside the tourism industry.
For those of us that are lucky to call the Greenbrier Valley “home”, we can support this industry by adopting a hospitality mindset ourselves. And remembering that tourism is often a step in talent and workforce attraction.
We like this graphic, which we saw in a Greenbrier CVB presentation, which sums up our position on growing tourism.
We understand the value of our tourism businesses and organizations. We are grateful for partners that are spurring continued growth in the area. And we are happy to serve businesses in the industry – established and new. Call us if we can help you.