Folks who love West Virginia have a new way to show it online.
And it’s just in time for the state’s 154th birthday.
They’re posting photos on social media with the hashtag #AlmostHeaven as a prelude to West Virginia Day on June 20, said State Tourism Commissioner Chelsea Ruby.
The inspiration for the online challenge stemmed from meeting so many people who truly love the state, she said.
That’s quite a change from the negative stories often used by the press and others to portray the state.
“Since I have been in this job, I have spent much of the last five months meeting with folks in the tourism industry. I have just been blown away by the West Virginia pride of everyone in the industry,” she said.
“So the next natural step was to use this great energy and tap into it to sell our state. It’s a way to take this pride for West Virginia and broadcast it worldwide.”
Ruby believes social media is becoming increasingly useful in promoting tourism, and was the perfect way to “let people share their own stories – louder, stronger and more clearly than we’ve ever done before.”
A survey done last year that looked at travelers in the United States found that 52 percent of people were inspired to book a location because of what they’d seen on social media, she said.
There’s already been a good public response to this new state campaign which began Tuesday, and the Division of Tourism is also participating by posting daily on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram about what makes the state so special, she said.
“People have been posting photos and even videos, because this is meant to be personal. We are also asking them to tag another individual to participate. But you don’t have to be a West Virginian to participate, because it is open to all people who love our state.”
Public officials at the local, county and state level are having fun, too.
Gov. Jim Justice tweeted about the beauty of each season here, and in another tweet also posted a photo of himself trout fishing.
“There’s nothing I love more than reeling in a trophy trout from West Virginia’s #AlmostHeaven rivers and streams,” his post reads.
Wildlife, walking trails, sunrises, daisies, football games, sunsets, whitewater rafting and even ramp dinners are part of the Mountain State’s charm.
“God definitely took a little more time when he created West Virginia,” Jon Brown Cain tweeted.
But posts about the mountains and scenery are also popular, as well as iconic attractions like Cass Scenic Railroad, Hanging Rock and Blackwater Falls.
John Denver was referenced along with his popular song “Take Me Home Country Roads” that first promoted the Almost Heaven reference.
Eric Lewis tweeted that his family’s cabin in Glady is “isn’t almost heaven, this is heaven” because it is in the middle of the Monongahela National Forest that offers hiking, fishing, clean cool air and wonderful people.
Some posts lament not being home, others are excited to be back.
Mackenzie Mays tweeted “Totally on board with this campaign to promote West Virginia. I live in California now, but it’s still not #AlmostHeaven.
There’s also another reason to take part in the challenge.
Two vacations will be given away each day to winners who will be selected randomly from the social media posts.
Winners will receive free lodging at specified state parks, such as Pipestem, Lost River, North Bend and Cacapon, as well as activities ranging from golf to visiting nearby tourist destinations such as Blennerhassett Island.
The promotion will end June 20, but the benefits will continue as this positive message spreads, Ruby said.
“No matter which corner of the state or where you are in West Virginia, you have a tremendously beautiful backdrop behind you. We have different backdrops that cater to different interests, and that’s what makes West Virginia a world-class tourist destination,” she said.
It is being done in conjunction with several ongoing media campaigns, and the goal is to grow the tourism industry.
“We believe these personal social posts will dramatically multiply the impact of our paid advertising when we let the rest of the world see the West Virginia we all love.”