By Adam Pack
Kara Dense, executive director of the Greenbrier Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), has been making the rounds in the county to let local leaders know how the hospitality and tourism industry is doing in the Greenbrier Valley. Lewisburg, White Sulphur Springs, Ronceverte, and Alderson all fall under the coverage area for the CVB, which spearheads advertising campaigns for all the amenities the area has to offer.
Last year marked the twentieth anniversary of the CVB, and Director Dense pointed out some accomplishments from their history: the opening of the Visitor’s Center, promoting Lewisburg’s bid for “Coolest Small Town in America,” implementing the Tourism Recovery Marketing Plan after the 1,000-year flood, and winning the Southern Tourism Society’s award for Best CVB of the year in both 2006 and 2018.
Dense also addressed what lies ahead for the CVB. The pandemic has created both opportunities and challenges for her bureau. “Studies from all over the country are finding that people are keen to go to places with small towns, outdoor recreation, not crowded, places that are safe; we have all that here in the Greenbrier Valley,” said Dense.
While this has brought an influx of tourists, it has also highlighted some problems. According to Dense, “People are flying here, but don’t have a way of getting around when they land here.” To address this issue, a new committee was created, and is chaired by CVB board members as well as Greenbrier Valley Airport Director Brian Belcher.
Collaboration is also underway between New River Community and Technical College and the CVB to address a work shortage in the hospitality industry. Dense explained that the industry nationwide is “struggling for workers.” So in response, the CVB has “started a conversation with Dr. Bonnie Copenhaver at NRCTC, and we are going to be partnering with them to look at their hospitality program and develop some training so that they aren’t walking onto the job cold.”
Dense went on to say the CVB is interested in advertising for these jobs and educating the public about the nature of a career in hospitality. She made special mention of Ron MaGruder, who she said, “is such a community leader in this area and a volunteer. Though he used to run Olive Garden and Cracker Barrel, he began his career by washing dishes.”
Dense further explained that marketing efforts have resumed in earnest in the 2020/21 fiscal year. The marketing plan occurred in phases, beginning with local marketing before branching to successively farther markets. She happily said that work had begun on the 2022 Visitor’s Guide and that “advertisers were excited to get back to the guide,” and that “advertising dollars are good.”
She also recounted the visit of a group of 43 writers from the Society of American Travel Writers Freelance Council to The Greenbrier Valley on a trip to southern West Virginia. Though rescheduled from its original date last year due to COVID, the group was treated to an opening reception at The Greenbrier and provided with a night’s stay before continuing their tour. Since that initial group visit in May, 18 writers have returned to the area and have visited 14 local tourism businesses. Dense noted that the area “will continue to benefit from the earned media generated” from the content generated by these writers.
Getting down to brass tacks, the numbers for the 2020/21 fiscal year come out as follows: