credit: West Virginia Tourism Office

What happens when travellers board a bus without knowing where they’re going?

TORONTO — Imagine boarding a bus with a group of fellow travellers, not knowing where your final destination will be. Could you do it?

It may sound like the premise for a reality TV show, but ‘blind’ vacations – trips where the destination stays under wraps until the participants arrive – are gaining in popularity in the travel industry.

credit: West Virginia Tourism Office

West Viriginia is the latest destination to jump on the bandwagon, hosting a ‘blind’ trip for 33 passengers who boarded a bus last Saturday at Washington, D.C.’s Union Station. As the bus made its way out of the city, the passengers tried to guess where they were headed. A little under three hours later – and 3,000 feet above D.C. elevation – they got their answer: West Virginia.

Passengers were greeted by a postcard-worthy view of the 13-mile Canaan Valley between two of the highest ridges in the Allegheny Mountains, just at the start of the area’s renowned fall foliage season.

“We were looking for a unique way to get people excited about fall in West Virginia,” said Chelsea Ruby, the director of the state’s tourism office. “Our fall foliage is second to none and our mountain towns are marvelous hosts, but a lot of travellers still don’t think of us as a fall destination. This event lets us cut through the noise of everyday advertising and get our message out: Come see West Virginia this fall!”

Ten days before the trip, ads began appearing in the greater D.C. area promoting a fall weekend getaway to a mystery destination. Five hundred people applied to participate, and a few days before the trip 33 lucky winners got the news they had been selected.

Their instructions included the following: Show up at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning with layered clothing, hiking boots and a sense of adventure. The group of strangers boarded the bus cautiously optimistic, buzzing about where the mystery destination may be. By noon, they were dining al fresco on a forest path overlooking the iconic Blackwater Falls.

The next 48 hours featured a full schedule of top activities in West Virginia, including horseback riding in Canaan Valley and visits to Seneca Rocks and NROCKS Outdoor Adventure.

Meanwhile, in Washington, the pixilated mystery ads that first captured the interest of participants were switched out for ads that revealed West Virginia in its full fall grandeur.

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