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Regional Tourism Reaches for a World Market

Up from the economic ashes of Sept. 11 has arisen the Greater Washington Tourism Alliance (GWTA).

Officially launched at the headquarters of the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association on April 17, GWTA was created to provide a formal structure to the tourism promotion efforts of the Greater Washington Area.

"It's an opportunity for all the tourism groups to get together and coordinate our efforts and better leverage the dollars available," Jo Anne Mitchell, the new group's chair and ACVA's president and CEO, said. "It will enable us to promote and build upon each other's strengths."

Joining Mitchell in the leadership positions are vice chair and treasurer Bill Hanbury, president and CEO, Washington Convention and Tourism Corp.; and vice chair and secretary Matt Neitzey, executive director, Prince George's County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Members of GWTA include local economic development authorities and destination marketing organizations based in Northern Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. Other organizations with tourism interests — such as the Smithsonian Institution, National Park Service and Washington Airports Authority — are also members.

"Initially, GWTA will operate as an ad hoc committee. Members will donate their time and will contribute minimal funding for administrative expenses," Mitchell explained. "As we generate a track record, the members will determine if there is sufficient mutual benefit to seek resources to develop joint marketing programs."

ALTHOUGH THE PRIMARY THRUST is to coordinate the tourist-promotion efforts of the areas immediately surrounding Washington, Mitchell noted that there is nothing preventing areas such as Spotsylvania County, Va., and Calvert County, Md., from participating.

"This is the first time all these areas have gotten together for a common goal," said Laura H. Overstreet, ACVA deputy director. "We are sharing events and how we can highlight each other's events. Everybody has become aware that what works for each of us works for all of us," Mitchell added.

"The more people we get to come to the region, the better it is for all of us. The whole tourist industry of the region will be funneled into this," Mitchell emphasized.

"We will act as a clearinghouse for the area's tourism calendar and marketing information, facilitate the sharing of research and marketing intelligence, and identify and organize voluntary collaborative marketing activities," she said.

As examples of some of the duplication of market research and intelligence, Mitchell cited demographics, dual events on like subjects, travel modes for tourists and statistics on target markets.

Two other guiding lights in the formation of the GWTA were George Vradenburg, AOL Time Warner's strategic adviser, and Tom Morr, president of the Greater Washington Initiative, which operates under the aegis of the Greater Washington Board of Trade.

"Building on existing regional successes, our goal is to position the Greater Washington Region as the world-recognized political and cultural capital of the free world. This is a bold and comprehensive strategy that delivers concrete benefits to the entire region," Vradenburg said.

TO CARRY THAT MESSAGE forward, Vradenburg will be the featured speaker at ACVA's next Alexandria Fun Side Forum on April 26 at George Washington's River Farm. Vradenburg’s topic will be "Regionalism: The Future of Tourism."

Located four miles south of Alexandria, just off the George Washington Parkway, at 7931 E. Boulevard Drive, the Farm serves as the headquarters of the American Horticultural Society and is itself a tourist attraction. The 90-minute program begins at 8:30 a.m.

GWTA's birth was hailed as "good news for the region's economy" by Morr. "The efforts of Greater Washington's tourism marketers should increase visitation and visitors’ spending, which benefits every part of the capital region," he said.

The events of Sept. 11 served as a catalyst to form the coalition, according to Mitchell. The group coalesced around the Emergency Preparedness and Economic Recovery Task Force of the Potomac Conference, she explained.

As tourism began to recover, industry leaders and economic development officials focused on improving communications and collaboration of their collective marketing efforts to attract visitors to the region as a whole, according to Mitchell.

"I know this organization will help me achieve ACVA's mission," Mitchell said.