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Chapter 12    Economic Impact


The Staunton-Parkersburg Scenic Byway will certainly present excellent region-wide economic development opportunities in all counties where the road passes.   .   Its impact will also be felt in adjoining counties,   especially if regional efforts and heritage areas that include the Byway counties, take advantage of opportunities to link their attractions to it, and cross promote.

Future development and reciprocal promotion of the portion of the Turnpike that runs from Staunton, Virginia to the West Virginia border can further increase positive economic impact, as that portion taps the tremendous flow of traffic on U.S. Route 11 and Interstate 81.   The many visitors who choose the State of Virginia because of its historic sites can be accessed, and offered another interesting touring option that increases their knowledge and understanding of early American history.

By extending the Byway west to its historic terminal in Parkersburg, we create an attractive connection to Ohio, one of the Potomac Highland’s most lucrative existing markets.    Access to the major traffic flows on I-79 at Weston, and on I-77 at Parkersburg make these trail heads a very desirable prospect.

Existing service stations, restaurants, lodging facilities, grocery stores, and retail stores—especially those carrying crafts and items with a strong regional identity, will see a definite increase in sales accompanying an increase in tourism traffic along the by-way.   Demand for services not yet available in these regions could result in expansion or creation of new businesses, which also stimulates the existing economy.   Businesses based entirely on tourism such as the Durbin & Greenbrier train, and those new shops and service businesses in the Town of Durbin have a major stake in the successful promotion of the SPT Byway.

Because of its close proximity to the Byway, the City of Elkins also stands to increase tourism receipts through the successful marketing of the historic route.   The city’s lodging facilities, antique stores and craft shops, retail businesses that offer alternative goods, and a wide variety of restaurants make it an easily accessed oasis for travelers on the byway.   Also, the availability of creative resources such as the acting troupe and playwrights of Elkins’ Old Brick Theater make the creation of entertainment specifically tailored to travelers interested in history a viable possibility, providing work for professional entertainers and increasing the number of attractions in the region.  

The Turnpike Alliance, the not-for-profit entity that administers and promotes the Scenic Byway, will be in a leadership position in creating new models for public/private partnerships, and creating economic alliances that cross county and state lines.  

Economic Benefits of Cultural Heritage Tourism

Cultural Heritage Tourism – travel to visit and appreciate local heritage -- is growing at twice the rate of regular travel. According to the Travel Industry Association, this tourist segment will continue to grow as the baby-boomers retire. Cultural Heritage Tourism is based on historic and natural places, traditions, industries, celebrations, experiences, crafts, music and art that portray the diversity and character of a community, region and/or state – the very experiences that the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike Byway will provide.   These tourists are more likely to travel to multiple destinations, stay in lodging facilities, eat in restaurants and shop than any other tourist segment.   In short, they stay longer, and spend more than the average tourist.

The following statistics indicate the economic opportunities that “Cultural Heritage Tourism” provides West Virginia:

 “Cultural heritage travel is a large and lucrative segment of the travel industry. In 2002, 81% of U.S. adults included at least one cultural, arts, historic or heritage activity totaling 118.1 million adult travelers. Cultural heritage travelers also spend more and stay longer than other travelers, generating more economic benefit. Cultural heritage travelers spend an average of $623 per U.S. trip excluding the cost of transportation versus $457 for other U.S. travelers.    Sixty-eight percent of the heritage group travel by car and take three or more trips per year.”   (The Historic/Cultural Traveler, Travel Industry Association and Smithsonian Magazine, 2003).


Estimating Economic Impact

A 1997 study on the “Economic Impact of Historic Preservation in West Virginia,” by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research of West Virginia University found evidence of economic impact of heritage tourism in the state, but the study had difficulty determining the extent of that impact because of the lack of development of the industry and poor data collection by sites. The West Virginia Cultural Heritage Tourism program is now working on models to determine economic spending and long-term impacts of increased heritage tourism development in our state. The Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike Byway can take advantage of that trend to help determine much more accurate figures on the impact of its efforts.

Starting with overall tourism figures for Pocahontas and Randolph Counties through 1999 and applying models from other similar Byways give results suggestive of the potential economic impact of the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike Byway as a heritage tourism generator.   As the Byway is improved, and more data is collected over time, we can evolve a more targeted and accurate model to show the actual impacts.

The 1999 DKS&A Report estimates that visitors to the Potomac Highlands spent an average of $67.00 per person, per day.  

A California DOT study based on economic impact reports for byways in rural regions all across the United States cites $32,500 per mile as the average annual revenue attributable to a scenic highway. Applying this model to the our approximately 160 mile Byway through eight counties, once it is signed and promoted estimates annual direct tourist revenues of   $5,200,000 per year.   If the approximate 26.3 miles of backways are calculated, that brings the figure to $6,054,750 per year. Note that this may overestimate impact for rural sections of the Byway without tourism services, since those areas will have few locations at which visitors can spend money.

Using a heritage tourism model of per person expenditures, if strategic marketing of the Scenic Byway results in an approximate 15,000 visitors, the Scenic Byway could reasonably expect gross revenues of $775,800 that year, resulting in the creation of about 17 jobs, and increased local spending of approximately $1,086,120, using a multiplier of 1.40.  


What Do People Really Spend in West Virginia?

Sue McGreal, founder and owner of West Virginia Receptive Services in Pocahontas County estimates that at least 120 47-passenger motorcoaches spend part of their multi-day travel itineraries in Pocahontas County.   Colleen Stewart, founder and owner of West Virginia Travel Connection in Parkersburg, says motorcoach guests in West Virginia for only one day usually spend an average of $100 to $125 per person.   If the motorcoach stays overnight, that figure jumps to at least $300.00 per person, per day.   “These figures are realistic for West Virginia, although they are low in comparison to what is spent in other states,” Stewart says. “West Virginia’s travel product is extremely inexpensive in comparison to other states.”

Developers of the scenic byway must bear in mind that while the travel product is extremely inexpensive in comparison to that of surrounding states, visitors also rate satisfaction and value in West Virginia lowest in comparison, according to the DKS&A report.

Decisions about which markets the region chooses to cultivate and how to cultivate them will determine maximum income potential.   Traveler expenditure levels depend in large degree upon the quantity and quality of goods, services and attractions available to them, and price is not always the first consideration. A combination of strategic marketing and investment can lay the foundation for a competitive, profitable tourism industry along the byway.