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Tourism official advocates regional marketing strategy

Alisa Bailey is happy to be back in her hometown, promoting the city as president and CEO of the Charleston Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Yet, Bailey says one of the ways Charleston can be most successful in attracting visitors is to take a regional approach.

It's one of the things she'll be discussing this afternoon in a session for the fifth Create WV conference, taking place in Charleston today and Saturday. Bailey said her agency took that approach in Virginia, particularly with two initiatives in Southwest Virginia, called Crooked Road and 'Round the Mountains.

"In tourism and quality of life issues, we have to market regionally," Bailey said. "Tourists don't care where the county and city jurisdictions are."

Create WV was launched by Vision Shared, and its mission is to foster creative entrepreneurship. Those registered can select different tracks to attend each day.

Bailey has facilitated a track called "Building Vibrant Communities to Achieve Economic Revitalization."

Panelists include Kevin Costello, who directs the Abingdon (Va.) Convention and Visitors Bureau in Southwest Virginia; Ellen Reynolds, owner of Beagle Ridge Herb Farm and Environmental Education Center near Wytheville (Va.); and Todd Christensen, a community development specialist who has served a variety of roles, including deputy director of the Department of Housing and Community Development.

"What we did at Virginia Tourism was to nurture and support an initiative in Southwest Virginia, which, like so many communities in West Virginia, is very rural and is known for the extractive industries - coal and timber," Bailey said. "A lot of small towns there were dying."

Rather than chase after manufacturing industry jobs, the region's leaders decided to focus on existing potential for tourism, attracting visitors to the beautiful region known for its artisans.

The initiatives involve increasing broadband access to the area and tying communities together - if a tourist visits one area, you can lead him to other stops in the area, regardless of city and county lines.

Bailey is convinced Charleston needs to do the same thing - the goal being the more tourism dollars spent in West Virginia, the merrier.

"A rising tide really raises all boats," Bailey said.

Statistics show that leisure customers may come to Charleston for, say, FestivALL Fall, which takes place this weekend. But after a day or so, they may have a hankering for something different, say a trip to the Hatfield McCoy Trail or whitewater rafting.

It works the other way, too, Bailey said. A visitor who plans a whitewater rafting trip could be encouraged to come to Charleston for a concert at the Clay Center.

"Even as Charlestonians, if we go to Snowshoe to ski instead of a competing resort in Roanoke, we've achieved our commerce goal of keeping money here as opposed to bleeding it out," she said.

Registration for the conference now is closed, but for more information on its ongoing initiatives, visit www.createwv.com.

Contact writer Monica Orosz at monica@dailymail.com or 304-348-4830.


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