Published January 16, 2014
When West Virginia and its capital city of Charleston signed up to host the state’s first-ever Travel South Showcase, it resulted in an “all hands on deck” response from the state’s travel industry. Three months before the event, more than 40 West Virginia destinations and sites had climbed on board to take part in selling the scenic state to the nation’s group travel industry.
“Without question, between now and February, working on Travel South Showcase is our primary focus,” said West Virginia’s Division of Tourism commissioner Betty Carver. “This is the first time in our state’s history to host this prestigious event, and the entire state recognizes what an opportunity this is.
“Many of these important guests will come from much more populous areas and will be amazed by what they find here,” said Carver. “We’re 80 percent forested, and our entire state’s population is only 1.8 million. This is a vast area that offers unparalleled outdoor resources. We have great state parks, internationally known white-water rivers and outfitters, and a music heritage that has endured for generations.”
Carver said Charleston will be front and center throughout the four-day conference as delegates enjoy its hotels and dining scene, plus events that will showcase both the West Virginia State Museum and the Clay Center. The State Museum underwent a major renovation and reopened in 2009. The Clay Center opened in 2003 and is the state’s heralded home for the performing arts, visual arts and science.
Charleston will serve as the host city for the delegation during the meeting itself, and Carver’s office has created an elaborate array of pretours for tour operators and media arriving early so they can immerse themselves in the history and culture of the state. Included among those themes will be America’s most identifiable family feud, its iconic Appalachian music and growing array of locally produced spirits, and the pivotal role West Virginia has played in the nation’s history.
The state’s Hatfield and McCoy heritage was catapulted to pop culture status with the 2012 production of the History Channel’s “Hatfield and McCoys” miniseries, starring actor Kevin Costner, who won an Emmy for his portrayal of “Devil Anse” Hatfield.
“In addition to the ‘Hatfield and McCoy’ stops, this tour includes some great additional stops,” said Carver. “We’ll be taking media and tour operators to Tamarack, which is one of the country’s most celebrated welcome centers and shopping stops; the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine; and to New River Gorge Bridge. That’s a great photo opportunity if we get good weather.”
Tour operators will also be able to visit the northern end of the state on a tour called Treason and Treasures. Stops include a stay at the historic Blennerhassett Hotel and a trip to Blennerhassett Island State Park in Parkersburg, where Aaron Burr and Harman Blennerhassett allegedly plotted to create a separate country in the late 19th century.
Depending upon the weather, the stops during the music and spirits tour will include many of the state’s most delightful small cities, places like Lewisburg, Marlinton, Weston and Elkins. Wineries, breweries and lots of authentic music will be highlighted for guests during that trip. A beer tasting at Mountain State Brewery in West Virginia University’s hometown of Morgantown will be one of the highlights of the itinerary.
“These itineraries are somewhat tentative depending upon weather and other factors,” said Carver, “but any changes now will be minor. The themes are in place, and the registrations to participate are coming in strong. The end result will be a vast new awareness of who we are as a state by some very important visitors. Our industry knows that this investment in Travel South Showcase will result in new group business throughout West Virginia for many years to come.”