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Belmont County Tourism awarded for activities during pandemic

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — The COVID-19 pandemic dealt a blow to tourism across the state and beyond, but organizations such as Belmont County Tourism Council have continued to promote local sites and events and draw attention to the region.

The Ohio Travel Association praised the Belmont County agency during the state tourism conference Oct. 6-9. Belmont County Tourism Council received two awards, the Spirit of Community Award and the Spirit of Innovation Award.

Usually, the awards recognize efforts in advertising, marketing and public relations. This year, awards were focused on how tourism councils have served others and how businesses have pivoted during the crises.

“We’re elated to receive these two awards from the Ohio Travel Association. COVID was a very trying time for the travel and tourism industry, and it made us really think out of the box,” Belmont County Tourism Director Barb Ballint said.

She also credited her office’s work with other convention and visitors bureaus.

“We partnered with (Executive Director) Craig White and the (Greater) Moundsville (and Marshall County) CVB,” Ballint said. “I have to thank … Craig White and his staff for joining us in the Spirit of Ohio Community Award.”

One initiative was producing a commercial to advertise area attractions.

“I feel like that commercial that we put together really brought comfort into the viewers’ homes during a really trying time and just made people aware that there were still things that you could do outside in our local area and enjoy during the pandemic,” Ballint said.

The agency has also been very active on social media, promoting area businesses and attractions geared toward outdoor activities, including online tours. More recently, the former Sheriff’s Residence Museum was renamed the Belmont County Heritage Museum.

Other activities online included featuring puzzles on the Belmont County Tourism website, which were highlighted by Gov. Mike DeWine at one of his presentations.

“We’ve had to be very innovative during this time. Our digital marketing manager works very hard to always bring something new to the table,” she said.

“I have a great team and support staff in my office. We collaborate very well together, and these awards are products of that collaboration and teamwork,” Ballint said. “It truly is a group effort. … It takes all of us.”

“We’re so full of bad news … this is something positive for the county,” she said.

The awards are sponsored by Ohio Magazine.

“We at Ohio Magazine could not be more proud of how Ohio’s tourism industry has stepped up to support their local communities while at the same time being faced with incredible hardships of its own,” Lute Harmon Jr., president of Great Lakes Publishing, said in a release. “It’s a remarkable and resilient group.”

“The leisure and hospitality industry was among the first to close its doors, among the last to open, and is subsequently the hardest hit in the Ohio economy,” Melinda Huntley, executive director of the Ohio Travel Association, said in a release. “And yet, our businesses stepped up despite the hardships and lent a hand to those living in our communities. … Businesses in the travel industry responded to the crisis through not only shifting focus to support local businesses, but also through serving others.”

She added that due to the pandemic and resulting shutdowns and limits on capacity, there has been a loss of $10.5 billion in traveler spending in Ohio, based on weekly spending reports by Tourism Economics. The resulting job losses exceed all other Ohio industries, with current unemployment rates at more than 30 percent.

The Ohio Travel Association is a non-profit organization representing attractions, destination marketing organizations, hotels, museums, suppliers, restaurants, campgrounds and other businesses in the state travel industry.

The Belmont County tourism website is visitbelmontcounty.com, and the agency can be found on Facebook.

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