Tourism promoters hoping for nice summer

PARKERSBURG – Local tourism officials are anticipating a strong showing for the approaching summer travel season..

With attractions like Blennerhassett Island and the West Virginia Motor Speedway to a number of special events, fairs and festivals throughout the summer to the opening of the Boy Scout’s Summit Bechtel Reserve in southern West Virginia, the area is poised to see a number of travelers in the area this summer.

Travel and tourism is a $105 million industry for Wood County providing 1,040 jobs and generating $21 million in local wages and $858,000 in local tax revenue, said Mark Lewis, president of the Greater Parkersburg Convention and Visitors Bureau.

With strong hotel and motel occupancy rates earlier this year, Lewis has reason to be hopeful about the summer travel season.

“I am really optimistic about the summer,” he said.

Travel is a broad and diverse industry employing a vast work force, from hotel employees to restaurant, attraction and retail workers, said local tourism officials, adding travel and tourism further supports employees in other industry sectors, such as construction, manufacturing and finance.

The CVB has begun its marketing push now as people’s interest in travel is hitting its peak and people are beginning to formulate their plans on what they want to do.

The speedway is supporting a full schedule of events this season through the hard work of organizers.

“That is a great addition that will bring in a lot of people,” Lewis said.

The Point Park Concert Series will be held again this season at the amphitheater. The series kicked off last summer to great success attracted numerous residents.

Blennerhassett Island’s annual summer season kicked off last week with summer travelers expected to begin coming steadily through the area after Memorial Day weekend when many students are out of school for the summer.

With the National Boy Scout Jamboree slated for late July at the Summit Bechtel Reserve at Mt. Hope, W.Va., numerous Scout troops will be stopping here on their way to Mount Hope.

“Parkersburg is on the way,” Lewis said.

The CVB has sent mailings to Boy Scout councils in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and elsewhere that might be traveling through this area on their way to the Summit.

Although the area will see an increase in visitors in the week or so leading up to the Jamboree and some the week following, it will give the area a little preview of what will happen in the coming years as the Summit begins yearly operations as the Boy Scout’s newest high adventure base which is expected to host thousands of Scouts on an annual basis.

The facility is one of only four such facilities nationwide, which will host camping, hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, ziplines, shooting sports and other outdoor activities annually on 10,000 acres of land.

“We are going to be a gateway community as people come into West Virginia to go to the reserve,” Lewis said.

People will be looking for activities and other things to do as they make their way to the facility and when others start making their way home. Once the high adventure base in fully operational, the area could see sustained visits.

Cecil Childress, manager of the Blennerhassett Hotel, said the tourism season begins once the weather warms. Numerous people including many couples have already experienced what the Mid-Ohio Valley Valley has to offer.

The hotel will be host of the annual Taste of Parkersburg, which moved from autumn to May 31 and June 1. Visitors will savor the flavor of Parkersburg with food, wine, entertainment and artisans.

Festivities are slated to begin that Friday with an educational wine seminar hosted by renowned wine educator Robert Cavanaugh. The festivities continue that Saturday with the main event from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., which includes taste selections from more than a dozen local restaurants and over 25 different wines.

The hotel’s numbers are looking good for the upcoming season with the pacing of reservations already reaching levels above last year, Childress said.

Things got off to a slow start until the hotel was able to get its patio open for outdoor dining.

“Now it is brisk and crazy,” Childress said.

The hotel has been able to fill a number of needs, even as markets have changed. The hotel has hosted out-of-town travelers, weddings, reunions, social events and people looking to getaway for a long weekend.

“We have been very fortunate in that,” he said.

Surrounding states are doing away with their Welcome Centers while West Virginia is maintaining its, Lewis said.

With a welcome station in Williamstown, visitors will still be able to get information about the state, and especially the Mid-Ohio Valley.

“It is still a great place to stop and find out about West Virginia and Parkersburg,” Lewis said.

Traditionally, a tourist bureau’s job was to promote overnight stays. There has been a push in recent years for people to rediscover the attractions and events in their own areas for day and weekend trips. Now it is just as much for the CVB to provide information about events and attractions for local residents.

A number of local attractions, such as Blennerhassett Island, are working on putting together evening programs to bring back local residents who may not have been there for a few years.

Also, many people have family and friends visiting the area and will be looking for things they can do together, Lewis said adding many organizations want to get the word out about these events.

“We don’t want people to ever say there is nothing to do around here,” Lewis said. “I think it is going to be a great year. The economy has turning around and a lot of people are interested in getting out and doing some traveling.”