Well, the next time it happens, West Virginians can fire back with this: An independent study commissioned by the state Division of Tourism shows more people are traveling in West Virginia, and they’re not coming here to see moonshine stills, junked cars or some kind of ‘‘Beverly Hillbillies’’ stunt.
In today’s challenging economy, the fact that people are spending their disposable incomes, however limited they may be, in West Virginia speaks volumes about what the state has to offer to tourists.
According to the study, travel spending has increased during the past decade by $2 billion to $4.38 billion, a growth rate of 7.8 percent a year.
‘‘The study reaffirms that, even with the challenging economy, tourism is growing in West Virginia,’’ state Commerce Secretary Kelly Goes said.
While counties with gaming facilities are the destination points for many travelers, the study revealed that tourists also have a dramatic impact on the economies of ski resort counties like Raleigh and Pocahontas. The study showed travelers make a $182.3 million impact on the Beckley area, which in addition to Winterplace Ski Resort offers such attractions as Glade Springs Resort and Conference Center, Burning Rock Off-Road Park, championship golf courses, national and state park areas, Theatre West Virginia, the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine, etc., not to mention the nearby New River Gorge and whitewater rafting, and the Hatfield-McCoy trail system.
And in Pocahontas County, which boasts not only skiing and golf at Snowshoe but other attractions like Cass Scenic Railroad, the Green Bank observatory and the Greenbrier River Trail, tourism is responsible for 26.6 percent of the county's jobs and 19.9 percent of its earnings.
The study indicated that visitor spending in 2008 directly supported 44,000 jobs with earnings of $912 million. Local and state tax revenues created by travel spending were $591 million in 2008, the equivalent of $799 per each household in the state.
‘‘It (the study) is really a very clear way to illustrate the impact tourism has in West Virginia,’’ state Tourism Commissioner Betty Carver said. ‘‘I think its very important to gauge where we are and to keep our eyes open to the trends. Seeing what interests travelers helps us in hitting the bulls-eye with our advertising.’’
And it only promises to get better, thanks in no small part to the efforts of visionaries like Jim Justice at The Greenbrier. Next summer, when the PGA Tour make a stop in White Sulphur Springs, the world will have an opportunity to witness not only West Virginia's beauty but also the down-to-earth hospitality of its people.
Maybe then the critics will shut up. Their audience is certainly shrinking.