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Let’s not be the best place ‘you’ve never heard of’

Here are headlines that accompanied two recent articles. From the March 20 The Charleston Gazette came this one: “Tourism, Courtesy Patrol face cuts.” Meanwhile, a day earlier, the Spirit of Jefferson published the headline, “Charles Town may be the most famous place you never heard of.”

The first article refers to funding for the West Virginia Division of Tourism advertising matching grants and for the Courtesy Patrol program, both of which will be eliminated on July 1. Quoting from The Charleston Gazette, “Estimated lottery funding for the Tourism Promotion account had been projected at about $7.5 million for the 2014-15 budget year – but the 2014-15 budget bill, which passed on March 14 includes no funding for that account.” Funding for tourism advertising had been a line item budget not a legislative appropriation thus the Tourism Commission voted to “table consideration of all application for tourism advertising matching grants until the funding situation is resolved. What were they thinking?

The second article refers to Charles Town, our county seat and the town founded by Charles Washington, George Washington’s brother and hometown to our first president’s family. Why is it the most famous place you never heard of? Marketing, of course. How do we tell our story? How do other counties in our region tell their story?

Why is this important as we think about tourism at the state, county, city and town level? It is what I call the trickle-down effect of tourism marketing to all of us. From the owners of gas stations, cafés and restaurants, inns and spas to retail, our national parks our cultural nonprofits and to us as citizens. We all have a stake in tourism marketing because we all reap the profits.

Last week I attended the Canal Towns Partnership regional marketing meeting hosted by the Tourism Council of Frederick County. In the late 1980s and into the 1990s Frederick County rebranded its city as a partnership between business and tourism. The county formed a council composed of stakeholders in a successful tourism marketing strategy.

The State of Maryland has embraced this model by funding projects, marketing and the building of a new visitors center, which highlight the adaptive reuse of an old spoke factory and has used the symbol of a wagon wheel with its spokes representing its marketing partnership with each wheel of that spoke as part of the story.

Tourism has utilized its cultural content creators and assets effectively. They have reaped the benefits of this way of thinking about their region and turned the town into a destination for shopping, eating, walking and culture. This is their new brand: Frederick County Tourism – The City, The County, The Region.

Marketing your product successfully is a generator of revenue and profits. The stakeholders and investors in tourism marketing receive the profits but they also generate revenue through sales’ taxes and hotel/motel taxes back to the state. This revenue for the state goes back into tourism to develop new products; visitor guides and brochures, web sites, social media and visitor centers it helps with visitor center hospitality. It is a reciprocal relationship. If you defund the marketers, you don’t receive the revenue. You don’t want an article headline to read “West Virginia may be the most famous place you never heard of.”

West Virginia is facing many challenges as it deals with the recent water crisis and budget shortfalls. All of us want a healthy environment and a fiscally strong state government. Marketing is all about how you tell your story, to whom you tell your story. Is it a story that brings travelers and businesses to your state, region, city and town? Is it effective?

Tourism marketing is a reciprocal partnership not a one-way street. By working together we can all be a spoke in the wheel of progress for West Virginia.

 

— Lois Turco is the chairwoman of the Canal Towns Partnership

 

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