This story is part of a series that looks at how local small businesses and organizations have been impacted by COVID-19.
Tourism is a key driver for economic development across the U.S. and in the Mid-Ohio Valley, the Greater Parkersburg Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) and Marietta-Washington County CVB lead the way in marketing and advertising the region’s destinations, events, and experiences. As premier marketing agencies tasked with uplifting MOV communities to tourists, the uncertainty of COVID-19 and the unclear timeline ahead for lifting restrictions has provided extra challenges.
“The impact of this crisis on everyone has been profound, but arguably worse for people and businesses involved in travel and tourism,” shared Mark Lewis, President & CEO of the Greater Parkersburg CVB. “The effects on our tourism partners range from significantly negative to devastating. Most of our partners are small businesses with limited resources to deal with the current situation. It remains to be seen how effective the federal government’s efforts to support and sustain small businesses will be,” he continued.
Deana Clark, Executive Director of the Marietta-Washington County CVB, shared that uncertainty of the future is one of the toughest things to deal with right now. “If there could be a clear ‘end date’ to COVID-19, circumstances would be much easier to deal with,” she said. “We are trying to be very sensitive in our messaging. We want visitors to know that we are looking forward to the day that we can welcome them back to Marietta and Washington County, when it is safe to do so. But not until then. Protecting the health of our families, employees, neighbors, and visitors is job number one right now,” said Clark.
Like many of our local small businesses, we are facing a major downfall.Deana Clark
Due to social distancing restrictions as well as travel restrictions, the CVB offices closed to the public for some time before reopening in May. While tourism staff worked remotely, the day-to-day tasks of fulfilling requests for visitor guides and information, overseeing advertising, and creating content continued with an added sense of urgency to both maximize marketing benefit to the region while simultaneously decreasing spending. This sense of urgency has impacted the financial priorities of Mid-Ohio Valley’s CVBs on things like marketing and advertising.
“Since the primary source of revenue for CVBs is lodging tax on room nights sold, and those are only at a fraction of normal, we have canceled much of the advertising that we had planned for this year, not knowing when travel will again be possible and what traveler behavior will look like post-crisis,” said Lewis. “We are focused on conserving resources as best we can. So that when circumstances change, we will have the ability to quickly ramp up our marketing efforts to attract those who are willing to travel,” he said.
“Like many of our local small businesses, we are facing a major downfall,” said Clark. “Our visitor bureau is a not-for-profit organization funded by and large by our local lodging taxes. When there is a decrease in occupancy in our hotels, there is a decrease to our funding as well. To offset these losses we are overhauling our 2020 budget and finding ways to reduce our expenses, while still trying to support our members and community and do the work of a CVB,” she said.
The Mid-Ohio Valley’s two CVBs have focused not only on strategic planning and support for their own financial health and programs but have also offered resources, guidance, and encouragement to tourism partners throughout the region. By increasing their collaborative efforts and thinking outside of the box, the CVBs have found new life through innovation.
“We’ve been working very closely with Marietta Main Street and our local chambers of commerce throughout the county,” said Clark. “New partnerships have been formed and the spirit of cooperation has been rekindled in community organizations. A general ‘we’re in this together’ frame of mind has been revived and new ideas and directives are the result of the circumstances,” she continued.
One probable change will be people looking for destinations perceived as less risky than big cities and other crowded venues.Mark Lewis
From advocating for local businesses on a local, state and national level to sharing local stories, contacting policymakers, and more, the CVB’s have made a concerted effort to keep the lines of communication open with their tourism partners to share what they’re doing and to learn best practices from each other. They’ve offered information on how to apply for various financial relief programs and keep members up to date with the latest directives.
Lewis acknowledged that the current outlook for travel and tourism can be bleak, but he says there is hope that changes in tourist behavior may benefit the Mid-Ohio Valley as travel restrictions are eased and people begin to move around the country again.
“One probable change will be people looking for destinations perceived as less risky than big cities and other crowded venues. Another probable change is that many more people will choose travel destinations within driving distance, as opposed to getting on a plane. It is likely that regional road trips will be much more common,” said Lewis.
“Our area lies within a one-day drive of 60% of the country’s population, and the Mid-Ohio Valley is within a relatively short and easy drive of metropolitan areas like Cleveland, Columbus, and Pittsburgh that are already good markets for us. This combination of changes in travel behavior may provide a lift for us, but it is too early to tell how much of a positive impact will accrue,” shared Lewis.
Clark shared similar sentiments as Lewis in recognizing the challenges of tourism and travel due to COVID-19, yet holds onto hope for the future of the Valley and how tourism will make a comeback.
“Locally-surveyed folks are saying that they plan to stay in the state as well. Day trippers, weekend trips, and quick getaway plans are scoring high and could play well for us because Marietta is well-known as an ideal getaway destination. And, because travelers are looking for safe experiences with their families, outdoor recreation, which we have an abundance of, is going to be popular this year,” Clark continued.
During times of crises, we are often reminded of how good humanity actually is.Deana Clark
Despite the current hardships being faced due to COVID-19, the sense of community is alive and well across the Mid-Ohio Valley and CVB leaders have a front-row seat to some of the ways local businesses and organizations are rising to meet the needs of the region.
“Many times in the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, we often overlook acts of kindness and generosity that members of our community illustrate for their neighbors. Even though we are bombarded with the negative impact of COVID-19 on the news, we consistently hear stories of hope and heartwarming generosity. Throughout our county, businesses are donating their resources, organizations are lending a helping hand, and people are volunteering to help those who most need it. During times of crises, we are often reminded of how good humanity actually is,” said Clark.