"Regionalism was made stronger by Sept. 11. But we have to think through our assets."
That was the central message delivered by George Vradenburg, strategic advisor to AOL Time Warner, to more than 60 people assembled for Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association's (ACVA) monthly Fun Side Forum.
He also warned that, "The upcoming terrorist trials are going to send a negative message to potential tourists. We have to build on our counter message ahead of time."
Gathered at George Washington's River Farm, just off the GW Parkway last Friday morning, representatives of various facets of the hospitality industry heard Vradenburg extol the region as having "cultural assets that can rival any in the world."
After being introduced by Alexandria Councilman William D. Euille, Vradenburg counseled those in the audience who own AOL Time Warner stock, "Be patient. We have been counted out four times before and we're still here."
HE THEN WENT on to say that competition only makes enterprises stronger and the closer competitors are to one another the better. "AOL is not going to be successful unless we are surrounded by competitors. We will all succeed. If I could have Microsoft in this area, I would," he insisted.
Citing his days in New York City with CBS, he noted that all the networks are headquarters within three blocks of each other. And, in Los Angeles, six major studios are situated within a "tight region" even though they are owned by companies spread throughout the world.
"There is a tremendous advantage for competitors to be near each other," he said. Vradenburg noted that close business competition leads to a vibrant industry. "But a vibrant industry base can not survive without a vibrant community," he emphasized.
In addition to his role at AOL Time Warner, Vradenburg also works with business organizations within the Greater Washington area to encourage cooperative marketing initiatives as a means of increasing tourism throughout the region. His topic for the April forum was, "Regionalism - The Future of Tourism."
TO ACCOMPLISH that goal, Vradenburg cited four tools that must be used. They are innovation, education, inclusion, and quality of life. "If you can create a total strategy for an area you will attract more people because you offer a total package," he told the audience.
"The Washington area is still tremendously underdeveloped as a tourism destination," Vradenburg said. "There is a stream of events that can be promoted in this area. It would involve all jurisdictions and all businesses throughout the region. Every agency in government and the military has a stake in promoting programs to the public.
"I believe the Washington area can be one of the greatest tourist destinations in the world," he exclaimed. To highlight that point, Vradenburg recognized the formation of the new Greater Washington Tourism Alliance (GWTA) being chaired by Jo Anne Mitchell, ACVA's Executive Director.
He explained that GWTA, which he was instrumental in forming, "is designed to create a regional marketing effort for the tourism industry." Officially announced April 17, GWTA membership is composed of tourism organizations from Virginia, Maryland and the District as well as representatives from all elements of the hospitality industry.
AS A PRIME EXAMPLE of regional cooperation with a single goal, Vradenburg cited the Washington/Baltimore bid to host the 2012 Olympics. "If we win the bid for U.S. Olympic City we will be the bid city for the next 20 years, even if we don't get picked for 2012," he explained.
"This alone would generate the development of a lot of infrastructure facilities that will benefit the area in general and particularly tourism. The Olympics is just one example of the importance of regionalism," he said.
When asked how to identify what is worthwhile and of interest for consumers, Vradenburg replied, "You have to understand the consumer and then identify their particular interest."
Prior to the main presentation, Katy Moss Warner, welcomed the group to River Farm, which also serves as the national headquarters of the American Horticultural Society. Warner is the organization's President and CEO.