WV must promote itself because no one else will

Coca-Cola is the world's most popular soft drink and has been, for the most part, for more than 100 years.

Many might think that with such success, Coke no longer needs to spend money on advertising. After all, it's got the market share and the brand recognition. No need to waste company money, right?

Not so. An aggressive advertising campaign (plus popular products offered at good prices) is what makes Coca-Cola the best-selling soft drink in the world despite numerous competitors vying for the same market.

West Virginia can learn a marketing lesson or two from Coke.

This legislative session, Gov. Jim Justice has proposed to increase funding for the state Development Office from $10 million to $45 million and to increase the Division of Tourism budget from about $6 million to $20 million.

If money is available, legislators should provide it. Smart spending on tourism and development is like investing in a strong long-term growth portfolio that will bring positive returns for years to come.

We in West Virginia know our little part of the world has much to offer businesses and tourists. But for others to learn that, the state needs to get the word out and grow tourism and development. With more tourists come more business opportunities. There's lodging, feeding and providing wonderful experiences for our guests, and also the side benefit of providing a realistic and mostly positive image of our mountains and valleys.

For every dollar spent on tourism advertising, the state yields $8 in state and local tax revenue and $106 in direct traveler spending, according to the West Virginia Tourism Office.

Tourism advertising doesn't just promote travel to our state, but it alters negative images held by many.

A 2016 public image study by Longwoods International, commissioned by the Tourism Office, asked out-of-state residents their thoughts on West Virginia in six areas: being a good place to live, start a career, start a business, to attend college, purchase a vacation home and to retire.

The study showed that outsiders' perceptions of West Virginia improved by an average of 18 percentage points after the residents were shown West Virginia's tourism advertisements.

Other states spend much more on tourism and development than West Virginia, and it pays off for them. But many of those states don't have the beauty, remoteness and character of our Mountain State. Nor do many of those other states carry the negative images often associated with West Virginia. There's no telling how many investment dollars those mostly inaccurate negative perceptions are costing the state in terms of jobs and revenue.

As Coca-Cola Co. knows, it's a competitive world. It's up to us to build and maintain our image around the U.S. and world. No one will do it for us, except maybe those tourists who come and enjoy their experiences.