By Ashley Centofonti

Executive Director

Mineral Co. Convention & Visitors Bureau

How will West Virginia Tourism look post-pandemic?

A lot of questions are very hard to answer due to these unique circumstances, but recent research holds some answers. Thanks to the West Virginia State Tourism Office, much research has been conducted to study travelers, their desire to travel, how they plan to travel in the future, and what they expect moving forward. WVTO reached out and partnered with two marketing firms specializing in the tourism industry - BVK, and Madden. Based on their findings from online surveys, the content that was shared helps predict what each county CVB should do moving forward.

The two firms predict that travel restrictions will be lifted by late summer /early fall, with many beginning to travel again around September. The top two concerns travelers want to see addressed are the government lifting those travel restrictions around the country, and that the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths have declined in the area they want to travel to.

The research also indicates that travelers are perceiving safe travel as going to places that offer outdoor recreation and places that are “Drive Markets” aka road trips. They are not interested in returning yet to things like cruises, crowded events and festivals, and areas that are slow to contain a COVID outbreak.

Millennials and& Generation Z are less worried about cleaning protocols, screenings, crowd sizes, physical interactions, and personal protective equipment (or PPE). Older travelers (Baby Boomers) are more worried about these areas, and will be returning to travel slower than the other generations.

Travelers who do plan to stay overnight will have higher expectations for things like sanitizing items being available, written cleaning procedures, and employee health screenings, just to name a few.

There is a shift of visitors wanting to come to small cities rather than large cities. We also will begin to see small group travel coming back as well, such as destination weddings and reunions.

How is all of this going to affect Mineral County Tourism? This can affect us in a very positive way. Mineral County is home to beautiful outdoor recreation. Jennings Randolph Lake and The North Branch of the Potomac (Barnum) offer outdoor fun with built-in social distancing! Larenim Park in Burlington offers fishing, hiking, and the Arboretum to encourage outdoor fun as well.

Our county can tap into the “Drive Market” as well, with visitors coming to see our museums, although we’d prefer to have visitors stay the night.

Moving forward, we can expect many of our tourism related businesses to continue with social distancing, limited contact protocols, enhanced cleaning and sanitation, encouraging the use of face masks, and much more.

These businesses will include restaurants, agritourism businesses, hotel/motels, music/art centers, and museums. This will be our version of “the new norma.”

Unfortunately, large crowded events like festivals and fairs probably won’t restart until sometime in 2021. The outlook for festivals and fairs will depend on both the governor’s okay and whether the public is ready to re-engage.

Everyone involved will need to maintain all the correct safety protocols to ensure we stay safe for our visitors and for ourselves.

This slow transition to opening the state back up can really benefit our county. We have the opportunity to slowly begin to advertise our county as a quaint, safe, mountain getaway. People are dreaming of getting out of quarantine and traveling to a place where they can relax, unwind, and escape it all. Mineral County has those attractions that people are dreaming of visiting.

While they are with us, we want them to feel safe, welcomed, and happy.