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Retiring tourism commissioner reflects on tenure

By Whitney Burdette, Capitol reporter

Tourism in West Virginia has grown over the years into a multi-billion dollar industry.

That’s thanks in part to Tourism Commissioner Betty Carver. Under her leadership, the state’s tourism revenue topped $5 billion in 2012, and it keeps growing.

Carver recently announced she would retire May 31 after working nearly 40 years in a variety of capacities for state government, 14 of which have been with the Division of Tourism.

“It has been indeed an honor and privilege to have the opportunity to work with the staff,” Carver said. “We have a phenomenal staff who are active and involved in many great opportunities we have with the administration, the different people over the years in the various administrations and people in the tourism industry — not only the visitors who are so enjoyable when you have the opportunity to interact with them, but the people who represent the businesses, the staff, the convention and visitors bureaus, the people who do the marketing and promote our state.

“It’s been an amazing opportunity for me. We have a great group promoting the state of West Virginia.”

Carver, from Belle, worked as special assistant to the attorney general and appointments coordinator for then-Gov. Jay Rockefeller. She also worked as director of scheduling and advance during Gov. Gaston Caperton’s two terms. It was during her time in the Caperton administration she realized she wanted to work to promote the state.

“We have a wonderful story to tell,” she said.

Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette said Carver has worked over the years to bring trade shows and tourism professionals into the state to learn more about what West Virginia has to offer.

“Betty has been instrumental in many projects — including bringing more than 500 tourism operators, travel journalists and other tourism professionals to the Mountain State for the Travel South USA Domestic Showcase this past February,” Burdette said. “Betty led the Division of Tourism with a passion for West Virginia and her people. She will be greatly missed by all.”

Carver began work with the Division of Tourism in 1997 and worked her way through various capacities, including bureau chief, deputy commissioner and director of community relations before being appointed commissioner in 2005.

“I was in community relations originally which was working with the welcome centers,” she said. “That was absolutely a great thing to do. They are at our borders greeting about 3 million guests annually. They’re a great staff that are very well trained.”

Welcome center staff must be well versed about all parts of the state. Carver said staff at welcome centers in the Eastern Panhandle often field questions about destinations in Wheeling or Fayetteville, for example.

“They are charged with being the state’s first line sales staff,” she said.

That became a little more difficult after the Freedom Industries chemical leak that tainted the water of 300,000 state residents. The story made national news at a time when people typically begin planning their summer vacations. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and the state Legislature voiced concerns about the effect the spill could have on the tourism industry, and to help improve the state’s image, Tomblin announced earlier this month an additional $1 million would be appropriated to the Division of Tourism for it’s spring advertising campaign.

“In addition to the advertising budget the Division of Tourism had already earmarked for spring promotions, the governor and (Commerce Secretary Keith) Burdette were very interested in making sure additional funds were provided to help get more advertising in the marketplace,” Carver said. “An additional spring campaign will be conducted with the funding provided by Secretary Burdette with the Department of Commerce.

“That basically doubled our spring budget, which is quite helpful.”

Carver said she thinks the state and the city of Charleston have done a great job at promoting themselves and repairing the area’s image issue. She said the state and the city have reached out to other areas that have dealt with similar circumstances such as natural disasters or industrial accidents to learn more about how those areas overcame the obstacles.

“I think being able to call on them and see how to time your response and to make sure you involve people in your communities, I think Charleston has done a very good job with monitoring what potential travelers as well as in-state residents are aware of,” Carver said.

“They are of course promoting FestivALL and tourism and really celebrating Charleston and what Charleston has to offer. It’s a great city. There’s so much to do here. It’s telling the story and letting people know what we have to offer from our culture and music to festivals and dining. The same goes for the state — making sure people know what is available.”

Travelers are more technologically savvy and more likely to research an area before they visit. Carver suggested potential visitors contact the local convention and visitors bureaus in the areas they’d like to visit to find out more information.

But research isn’t limited just to out-of-state visitors. Carver encouraged West Virginians to find out what the state can offer them.

“The industry really is quite diverse in the state with offerings for family groups, people who really want to be active with extreme sports, all over the map,” she said. “We would encourage people to do some research about what is available in their own state and their own backyards and enjoy the beautiful state we have.”

Contact writer Whitney Burdette at 304-348-7939 or whitney.burdette@dailymailwv.com. Follow her at www.Twitter.com/wburdette_DM.


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