FILE - West Virginia welcome sign

A West Virginia welcome sign.

(The Center Square) – Even though national tourism numbers are still struggling after the COVID-19 pandemic, the West Virginia tourism industry is exceeding its pre-pandemic economic numbers.

The total spending and earnings on tourism in 2019 were both higher than any other year in the past decade, according to the 2021 Travel Impacts Study commissioned by the state. The full numbers for 2022 are not yet available, but the state is projecting that tourism spending will be even higher than 2021.

In 2021, consumers spent more than $4.9 billion on tourism in the state, which was about 3.8% higher than its pre-pandemic numbers in 2019, which were slightly more than $4.75 billion. Total earnings increased at a lower rate of about 1.8%. In 2019, the tourism industry took in less than $1.26 billion in earnings, but in 2021, the industry took in nearly $1.28 billion. Nationally, tourism spending in 2021 was about 27% lower than 2019.

“It comes as no surprise to me that our great state has come out on top of all the others once again,” said Gov. Jim Justice said in a statement. “I want to congratulate the entire tourism industry for all their hard work to help make this growth possible. I am looking forward to seeing our tourism industry continue to grow for many more years to come!”

The numbers vastly exceeded 2020 tourism, which was hampered by the pandemic. The 2019 spending numbers were nearly 30% above 2020 and earnings were more than 18% higher.

Despite the larger spending and higher earnings, local, state and federal tax revenue was lower in 2021 than it was in 2019. Local tax revenue was down about 2.5%, state tax revenue was down about $6.2% and federal tax revenue was down about 3.5%.

According to the governor’s office, every region in West Virginia saw higher spending in 2021 than in 2020.

“Our industry didn't just erase the impact of COVID-19, we actually did better last year than we were doing before the pandemic,” West Virginia Tourism Secretary Chelsea Ruby said in a statement. “Thanks to the overwhelming support from the Governor, the determination and grit of our incredible industry, and our state being perfectly positioned with wide open spaces, we’ve been able to thrive in spite of the challenges the past few years have brought.”

The study was conducted by economists at Dean Runyan and Associates, which has provided tourism reports for the state since 2000.

The Center Square reached out to The West Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association for comment, but did not receive a response by the time of publication. 

Staff Reporter

Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and West Virginia for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon.