By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Tourism is growing in Mercer County, and two economic engines powered by ATVs and Boy Scouts will help tourism grow even more, one local promoter told city and county officials Tuesday.
Marie Blackwell, executive director of the Mercer County Convention & Visitors Bureau told elected officials with the cities of Bluefield and Princeton as well as the Mercer County Commission that Mercer County is seeing an increase in visitors. She presented the bureau’s annual 2011-2012 Lodging Tax Report to all three entities, and its figures showed local growth in the tourism industry.
“Tourism in Mercer County is on the rise,” Blackwell said. “From 2011-2012, we saw an increase in lodging tax collections which translates to an increase in visitors. We anticipate an even greater increase with the addition of the newest Hatfield-McCoy Trail, the Pocahontas Trail located in Bramwell, and the arrival of the Boy Scouts in 2013. These are two huge economic engines for Mercer County.”
The new Mercer County branch of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail opened this year. Thousands of Boy Scouts, their families, counselors and other personnel are expected in southern West Virginia when the new Boy Scout facility in Fayette County hosts the National Boy Scout Jamboree in 2013.
“While the scouts are at the summit, their families will be touring our area, staying in local motels, eating in our restaurants and visiting our attractions and shops,” Blackwell said.
The county’s hotel and motel tax generated $427,193 in 2012, Blackwell stated. This is up from $410,558 in 2011. Mercer County collected $353,652 of the 2012 total, followed by the city of Bluefield with $69,721 and the city of Princeton with $3,820.
Revenues generated by the lodging tax are spent on advertising with print media, the Internet and social media to promote Mercer County and southern West Virginia, Blackwell said.
The bureau offers hospitality training to local businesses so they will be “up to speed” about what Scouts and their families will expect when they visit Mercer County, Blackwell said. Some businesses are already seeing the results of the 2013 jamboree.
“They are in the area, and they are lodging,” she said, adding that one hotel has already booked 40 rooms for people attending the jamboree.
“They are already making their plans, and we need to be up to speed and let them know how happy we are to have them here,” Blackwell told the Bluefield Board of Directors.
Mayor Linda Whalen said many Mercer County resident have “not yet realized the magnitude” of having major Boy Scout events in southern West Virginia. Whalen said the Fayette County facility would be used all year, not just for one event.
Board member Pete Sternloff said businesses that do not participate in hospitality training risk not being ready for the Scouts when they arrive.
The goal is to help area businesses get ready to say that Scouts are welcome in Mercer County, Blackwell said.
The convention and visitors bureau can be contacted at 304-325-8438.쇓