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Tourism continues to grow throughout the Eastern Panhandle | Journal-news

As the Eastern Panhandle appears to be emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, one industry that continues to remain healthy in Jefferson and Berkeley counties is tourism. Whether it’s the public’s desire to be outdoors, enjoy nature, or perhaps the Panhandle’s proximity to the Washington D.C. and Baltimore area, both counties are thriving as the world somewhat returns to normal.

“I feel like we’ve bounced back and are like gangbusters,” said Annette Gavin-Bates, CEO of the Jefferson County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The first quarter of this year compared to last year in terms of hotel-motel collections, we are up 80% compared to last year. We have a trend in 2022 before 2019 for the first quarter, and it’s amazing. »

She added, “At some point we are going to stop using the word COVID or the word pandemic, but I think because of that it gave us an opportunity to introduce our county and our state to a any other visitor. I firmly believe that we are going to have a banner year this year, and I am very confident that this could be a banner year for Jefferson County.

In Berkeley County, the success story is much the same, said Martinsburg-Berkeley County CVB executive director Mark Jordan. As it went, he said the county has seen a steady increase in tourism, and he even noted the industry is returning to pre-pandemic levels.

“It’s a quick drive-in destination and a quick getaway for a lot of people for a day or two,” he said. “It’s also mainly because of everything we offer outdoors.”

It wasn’t always like this, he explained. The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the Panhandle tourism industry, primarily in regards to hospitality. The blow was so severe, he said, that he still doesn’t believe the county has fully recovered from that side of things.

Jefferson County was also affected, Bates noted, but that hasn’t stopped the county from bringing in more tourist dollars than any other county in the state, which it does regularly. This success can be attributed to state assistance, which has stepped up its marketing efforts during the pandemic.

“They did an amazing job,” she said. “I think the whole idea of ​​selling people, ‘When the time is right, remember us, don’t forget us.’ That constant message – remember that day you were at Harpers Ferry – I think it resonated with a lot of different travelers Taking family and friends, hiking and rafting – I think it all really worked. I think every time the tourism department marketed West Virginia we were the first to benefit. I think that helped a lot.

Events unfolding in the coming months also help both counties. In Berkeley County, Jordan explained that the Martinsburg Wine Festival is usually a big draw for the region. And even though it’s planned to be just one day instead of the usual two, he was sure people would turn up in droves.

However, perhaps this year’s biggest entertainment offering will come in the form of Berkeley County’s 250th anniversary centerpiece. Scheduled for July 3, it will feature fireworks and musical performances at West Virginia’s Eastern Regional Airport. Until then, the county will periodically hold memorial events to mark the anniversary, including a 5,000 Color Race scheduled for May 15.

Meanwhile, in Jefferson County, Bates noted that she was thrilled with the schedule of concerts scheduled at the Hollywood Casino in Charles Town. The Dog Fest in Shepherdstown is also something she has circled on her calendar in June, as well as the Contemporary American Theater Festival, which will take place on the Shepherd campus throughout July.

“I’m excited because I see events coming back,” she said. “I’m excited to be able to do those things again.”

Overall, Bates and Jordan expressed hope for the direction the tourism industry is heading in the Eastern Panhandle. And with numbers now exceeding expectations, the future is bright for both counties.

“I’m passionate and optimistic about it,” Bates said. “The key phrase is not destination marketing but destination management. I feel truly blessed that we have an extraordinarily popular destination. It’s always a balancing act on how we manage it – how we’re able to manage the destination for the visitor experience and the residents of the county.

She added: “I think we are very lucky to have such amazing assets. We have some really exciting things we are doing this year.