Travel Talks with Rep. Evan Jenkins

Winter resorts are gearing up for the cold weather, and the Winterplace Ski Resort in Ghent, West Virginia is no exception. The resort kicked off its season by hosting Congressman Evan Jenkins and twelve West Virginia-based travel and tourism leaders for a Travel Talks roundtable. The Congressman enjoyed a back-of-house tour of Winterplace before sitting down with representatives from the New River, Gauley, and Bluestone National Park Areas, the Ski Association, Raleigh County Memorial Airport and local Convention & Visitors Bureaus.

Congressman Jenkins, a member of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, began the discussion by expressing his support for the travel and tourism industry. He shared that he is working to increase the frequency of the Amtrak Cardinal, a train route from NYC to Chicago, and is working to complete the King Coal Highway and the Coalfields Expressway, thus increasing tourism to southern West Virginia.

The group continued the conversation to expound on the need to protect the region’s parks. Rick Johnson of Rivers Expedition Whitewater indicated that park budgets are continuously reduced, impeding parks’ ability to make much-needed infrastructure updates. Most notably, repairs to nearly impassable roads in state and national parks are needed. The group also talked about ways to use digital marketing to attract out-of-state visitors to the parks.

The travel leaders also expressed their support for international visitation and noted that facilitating smooth and efficient travel is essential. Lizzy Watts, a National Parks superintendent, and Lisa Strader, public relations manager at Southern WV, touched on the need to maintain foreign travelers. In West Virginia, international visitation boosts the economy, generates tax revenue and creates local jobs. Sharon Cruikshank from the New River CVB shared that her organization had visitors from over 21 countries use their welcome center, stressing the need to increase the ease of international travel.

Tom Cochran, Raleigh County Memorial Airport Manager, wrapped up the session by addressing the funding problems airports face. The Passenger Facility Charge, or PFC, funds airport infrastructure updates, however, the PFC has not be increased in over a decade. Cochran talked about the overall need for airport infrastructure upgrades and the importance of improving travel facilitation. “We have one of the best airports in the state because of the geographical position it is in,” said Cochran. “So we need to improve it, which will give us the opportunity to help and grow along the way.”

We thank Rep. Jenkins for taking the time to meet with local tourism officials, and for supporting his community’s travel industry.