BUCKHANNON – Upshur County’s hotel-motel occupancy has dropped over the past couple of years due to the pandemic and fewer local lodging options, but one bright spot is the increasing popularity of vacation rental properties, the executive director of the Upshur County Convention and Visitors Bureau said recently.
Laura Meadows, director of the CVB, delivered her annual report for the 2021-2022 fiscal year at Buckhannon City Council’s Aug. 2 meeting, highlighting that development as she briefed council on the organization’s activities over the past 12 months.
“It’s by far not as large as other areas of West Virginia, but to see the number of vacation rental properties increase year after year has just been amazing,” Meadows said. “Seven years ago, we had three, maybe four properties [and now] Upshur County is pushing 20, maybe 25 properties, and it’s just really cool to see that tap in.”
Meadows said visitors from as far away as Michigan and the Midwest have stayed in the properties, finding them primarily on either airbnb.com or vrbo.com.
“Facebook is really hitting the right key market for us, which is typically an empty-nest-type couple that is probably in their late 50s, up to early 70s,” she said. “That’s really our key demographic target market. We like to expand and try different markets, but that’s really the solid one.”
In addition to its Facebook page and website, visitbuckhannon.org, which features the area’s ‘Small Town Getaway, Big Town Charm,’ the CVB maintains an Instagram account and sends out eNewsletters twice a month. The local tourism organization also places advertisements and articles in WV Living and collaborates with My Buckhannon to create content stories.
“Because we are funded by the hotel-motel tax, we want to encourage people to stay overnight so we’re trying to place ads and public relations campaigns and marketing campaigns in key media demographics to reach these people and get them to be interested in Buckhannon and make that trip, so you can see we advertised with West Virginia Living,” she said. “We have a lot of content stories with My Buckhannon, and those are really the stories that are engaging with people, they like to read those, they like to share those, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Meadows said she’s been collaborating with “anyone and everyone” in the community, partnering with the West Virginia Strawberry Festival and the James W. Curry Park and Library in Brooks Hill to redesign their respective websites. (Check out the Curry Library and Park’s new home page at https://www.currylibraryandpark.com.) Additionally, the CVB has served as the financial carrier for Upshur County Trails as it works to secure grant funding to develop the hiking and mountain biking trail network in southern Upshur County.
The CVB manages the Event Center at Brushy Fork, and over the past year has staged close to 50 events there. Meadows is looking for that to climb over the next year, however, as it prepares to hire a new event center manager to replace Sean Harris.
“We’re going to hire a new event center manager to really take the reins of that facility and continue what we have and then grow it,” Meadows told council. “One specific thing our board and the event center committee wants to see is really setting some measurable, set growth goals, so we to see ‘x’ amount of new events happening in the first six months, we want to reach this certain revenue threshold because we’ve seen that climb, but whenever COVID-19 hit, of course, like with everybody, that just came crumbling back down but we’ve slowly seen that growth kind of uptick.”
Meadows said one way to accomplish that goal is to add more amenities at the Brushy Fork facility.
“We definitely need to step it up, and we need to look at some other resources we can incorporate into that facility and just up the amenities and then that way attract more rentals out there,” she said.
Following the presentation, council members discussed the need for more lodging options in Upshur County as well as the logistics of keeping the CVB’s office on Main Street open on weekends.
Meadows said although hotel occupancy is slowly inching upward, overall, hotel-motel tax revenue has dipped about $25,000 to $30,000 from what was average prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mayor Robbie Skinner suggested the CVB, Upshur County Development Authority and the city team up to remedy that.
“One of the things I think would be very beneficial for our community is for perhaps the CVB and the (Upshur County) Development Authority and us to work on perhaps a feasibility study for beds,” Skinner said. “I believe that we are lacking in hotels here in Upshur County; I think it’s our Achilles’ heel, quite frankly. We’ve lost a few, and we’re still a community that boasts events and we’re an active college town that I believe needs additional hotels in our community. I think that’s something that maybe the three of us can work on.”
Meadows said that would be beneficial because sometimes during larger events, the CVB has to direct visitors to neighboring communities to find lodging.
City recorder Randy Sanders, a member of the CVB’s Board of Directors, noted that the board is also considering options for keeping the CVB open on weekends.
“We’re looking at how to do that, particularly weekends when we have students coming back to W.Va. Wesleyan,” Sanders said. “There’s Homecoming and several other weekends where we need that, and we are continuing to explore how we can make that happen without overburdening you and the staff that work at the event center.”
Councilman Jack Reger, a former owner of A Governor’s Inn, agreed.
“There is a need for that,” Reger said. “When had the Governor’s Inn, we had a lot of comments on that.”
“That’s something we want to focus on and try to correct and improve,” Meadows replied.