The state of the tourism industry in 2018, according to three experts

Tourism industry experts spoke with West Virginia University students earlier this month to provide thorough insight on the field. From integrated branding to digital innovation, this panel showed today’s competitive travel market, and some of the challenges it faces with growing technology.


Aly Goodwin Gregg Managing Partner,


Kara D. Dense Executive Director,

Greenbrier County Convention & Visitors

Caryn Foster Durham Founder,

Durham Strategy & Consulting

Lynn R. Swann​ Director of Marketing & Communications,

The Omni Homestead Resort


In 2016, tourism accounted for $1.5 trillion of America’s economic impact, and one out of every 18 Americans was employed within this industry. Challenges today include “being heard in all of the noise that’s out there. Everyone is trying to reach the traveler and get that dollar, and sometimes it’s tough to decide who to speak to. We’ve looked at the past year and we’ve thought ‘millennials, millennials, that’s who we need to go towards,’ but when we do our research we see that we’re still just popular with the ‘boomers.’”

Generational differences can be a major factor in catering to different audiences—millennials are running the world, while baby boomers have the money. “One of the things I’ve always talked about is how important one message translates across numerous audiences. Your mom sells a family reunion to you differently than she sells it to your dad, and how she talks about it differently to her sister, perhaps. You’re all still going to the same place, you’re going to experience the same things, but once you get there the experience is going to be very different.”

“Right now, people are travelling for experiences. They don’t just want to come and see something, they truly want that experience.”

In this day and age of wanting picturesque, luxury trips without a high cost, new technology is changing the landscape of how to achieve that goal while lowering the cost. Airbnb, VRBO and even Uber aren’t held responsible for paying destination taxes, while taxi companies and hotels are. “The challenge that all tourism destinations have is a way to maximize on what people are doing when they’ve reached their destination.

However, in solving the disconnect between who pays taxes and who doesnt, “the government is very unwilling to change the way they’ve always done things, but the disruption being caused is phenomenal.”

What’s the solution? “The innovation is going to have to come and we’re going to have to be pretty comfortable with being uncomfortable.” The panel goes on to say that this innovation will have to stem from a sharing economy, the U.S. government and the consumer.  

“In addition to what you have to do to get a person there, once they’re there, we’re still fighting over how to allocate their dollars and what to do with them once they get to the destination.”

Challenges of staying relevant in the changing tides of social media and technology depend strongly on catering to a specific audience. “Whether it’s media outlets or whether it’s demographic targets, know who you’re talking to and speak in their language. Even when it comes to social media outlets, you’re going to word something differently on Instagram than you will on Twitter, or Facebook.”

The other issue accompanying “audience” in the matter of relevance is being comfortable and aware of every aspect of the destination. “We can’t be all things to all people, and we shouldn’t try to be. What you need to decide is who you are and who you appeal to and focus on those things. It’s okay to not be everything to everyone, and to figure out who you are, who you want to reach and what you want to talk about.”

To hear the full panel, visit the PRSSA blog.