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West Virginia Impresses at Travel South Showcase

CHARLESTON, West Virginia — More than 500 delegates attended the first Travel South Showcase ever held in West Virginia, February 23-26, and quite a few came in early or stayed late to take advantage of the state’s extensive sightseeing program for tour operators and media delegates. The meeting was held in Charleston, the state’s capital and home to many of its cultural centers.

“We had 537 delegates for Showcase, and I made a point of saying in my opening remarks that that is almost a perfect size for us from a meeting dynamics perspective,” said Travel South executive director Liz Bittner. “I think a lot of industry people today are really comfortable doing business at a conference of that size. Equally important to me was that more than 80 industry representatives attended from our host state of West Virginia. As a result, they made a huge impression on the tour operators and media in attendance for this state.”

That’s a sentiment that was echoed by two of the state’s two primary hosts: Betty Carver of the West Virginia Division of Tourism and Alisa Bailey of the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“We decided early on that we were going to run four fams across the state for the media and tour operators attending, and they turned out for them,” said Carver. “As a result, I think there is a huge new awareness of our music, our culture and our independent spirit in West Virginia. I think they’ll be back.”

“Bringing this conference to Charleston was very important to our city,” said Bailey. “The leisure group market is changing dramatically, and I think that has been shown this week. Younger travelers are coming into this market, and they will find that we really are what we say we are here in Charleston: ‘hip, historic, almost heaven.’ And our city now knows what it means to host a group of this significance.”

Bittner said that West Virginia is perfectly located to capitalize on the huge group market that emanates from the eastern United States.

“There is so much group business coming out of Pennsylvania, New York and other markets up there that can use these destinations,” she said. “From Boy Scouts to traditional seniors, West Virginia really has the product to capitalize on groups.

“The legislature was in session here, and at every meal, we had state senators, congressmen and commissioners coming by for tours or to sit in with us,” said Bittner. “That is a testament to how much preparation the state and city did in generating new awareness of the importance of tourism to West Virginia.

“We are a great training wheel convention for this industry,” she said. “If you host Travel South Showcase, you really learn how to host an important delegation.”

Mac Lacy

Mac Lacy is president and publisher of The Group Travel Leader Inc. Mac has been traveling and writing professionally ever since a two-month backpacking trip through Europe upon his graduation with a journalism degree from the University of Evansville in 1978.