FAYETTEVILLE, W.Va. — Nearly 50 of the best known travel writers in the United States are spending the week in West Virginia. They are centering their activity in an annual meeting on the New River Gorge National Park. The new park designation was what drew the Freelance Council of the Society of American Travel Writers to West Virginia.
“They planned their meeting here based on the hopes we would get a National Park which obviously in December we did. They’re here right now. There’s 43 of them, they are some of the top communicators in America and they are enjoying West Virginia,” said Dave Arnold with Adventures on the Gorge.
Arnold and his company helped court the group to West Virginia in hopes of expanding the publicity about the New River Gorge National Park. It’s the 63rd National Park in America and from the start, Arnold was one of those who pushed for the elevation of status, almost guaranteeing it would boost the region’s tourist traffic. So far, he said it is proving to be true.
Reservations for Adventures on the Gorge are up for the coming year by 20 percent. While it’s true some of it might be a rebound from Covid, Arnold said some of it can be traced directly to the new “park” status.
“We know it’s based on the park because they mention the park. This sounds like an exaggeration, but probably every 10 minutes somebody in our reservation system is saying they heard about the New River Gorge being named the 63rd National Park or they’ve got their National Park checklist and they want to check off West Virginia,” he explained.
The visit by the travel writers to the state is aimed at helping spread that word even further. Already Arnold said the publicity has been a boom for the region and he expected more would come.
“We’ve had over 100 stories so far and it’s not just publications. There have been New York Times, Wall Street Journal and even Vogue, but it’s also the the other forms of media like social media and TV,” he said.
Last weekend CBS Sunday Morning did a glowing three minute report on the region. Arnold said although the piece spotlighted one of his company’s competitors, it didn’t matter because it all reflects positivity on the region and will continue to build the brand and bring the people.
During the past two decades, the whitewater rafting industry has slowly eroded. According to Arnold they went from a high of just over 200,000 guests to around 100,000 in more recent years. The industry was literally cut in half. It’s anticipated the park status will boost much more than rafting, but Arnold hoped the activity which started it all will realize a renaissance from the new influx of visitors.
“A lot of people wonder how we survived if we were cut in half, well, it’s because we have built cabins and ziplines and other things, but it sure would be nice to see rafting get busy again,” he said.
He’s hoping with 43 of the nation’s best travel writers enjoying the Mountain State this week, that possibility isn’t far away.