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WVU Hospitality students shared the latest tourism trends, best practices and suggested travel itineraries with WV Tourism Office, WV Forward

Continuing to follow WV Forward’s blueprint to boost tourism promotion across West Virginia, the WVU John Chambers College of Business & Economics’ Hospitality & Tourism Management students presented their semester-long projects to WV Deputy Tourism Commissioner Kara Moore, Tourism Office Cooperative Advertising Coordinator Alex Dudich and WV Forward partners on Friday, December 7. The projects were led by Dr. Ajay Aluri, Founding Director of the Hospitality Innovation and Technology (HIT) Lab and Associate Professor in the Hospitality and Tourism Management program.

Citing STR data, the students emphasized that after a few years of recession, West Virginia’s tourism industry saw a boost in 2018, but it’s important to stay on that trajectory. There has been a fundamental shift in the economy and business world, driven today by customization versus commoditization. Therefore, the presentations focused on tourism research, social media insights, trends in smart technology, current consumer behavior and data-based recommendations aimed at building personal guest experiences while seeking opportunities to become a smart tourism destination.

“Let’s keep doing what we are doing right and increase demand, while also creating customized experiences for our visitors,” said Dr. Aluri. “As small as we are in West Virginia, we have a real opportunity to differentiate ourselves from neighboring states and become a smart destination.  
He added, “Today’s travelers want to stay connected. Let’s make that happen and ensure we are making the right connections to make the best experiences at the destinations and iconic events that will boost local economies and the industry.”

In line with the Tourism Office’s mission to attract new visitors while extending the average length of stay and average spend per visitor, the students planned tailored 3-day itineraries that targeted all regions of the state. They also created a timeline of events in 2019 customized to the four types of traveler personas: planners, attendees, relaxers and explorers.

From destinations like the Oglebay Resort, Mountaineer Racetrack and Casino, Stonewall Resort, The Greenbrier and Snowshoe, to Cheat Lake, Summersville Lake, the New River Gorge, and Canaan Valley, West Virginia’s assets are abundant. Add on the exciting events taking place throughout the year, from old traditions like Bridge Day to new opportunities like the World Scout Jamboree and the 2019 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup, there is an attraction for every traveler persona, every season of the year. Creating personal experiences through smart technologies, social media and trending platforms, they students argued that West Virginia can trigger more attention across West Virginia’s border and far beyond.

“We can start small, working on pilot programs, and then expand from there,” Dr. Aluri said.
Impressed by the results, the Tourism Office encouraged the students to broaden the itineraries to 5-7-10 day trips and will take back the timeline and all data-driven results to the state’s capital.

The Tourism Office will consider implementing the proposals throughout next year, and will continue to look to the HIT Lab’s expertise to inform the Tourism Office and WV Forward partners of the trends and best practices that will continue to increase West Virginia travel and stays. In addition, the HIT Lab will serve as a platform for building smart tourism in the future, from augmented reality to robotics and more, and will work with WV Forward experts from across the state to strive to create even better experiences that attract new and old tourists for longer visits in all regions of the Mountain State.

Only through collaboration and partnership can we build a stronger, and smarter, West Virginia tourism industry.

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