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Panhandle hosting tourism conference

October 01, 1998|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Close to 300 restaurant owners, hotel managers and state and local tourism officials will visit Shepherdstown next week to get a firsthand look at the Eastern Panhandle's tourism trade.

It's the first time the 10th annual Governors Conference on Tourism has been held here, and local officials are anxious to show people from the rest of the state what the Eastern Panhandle has to offer.

Owners of tourism-related businesses come to the conference each year to learn what type of marketing concepts the state Department of Tourism plans to use over the next year to promote the state and how businesses can get involved in advertising and other promotions, officials said.

The group also hears from national marketing organizations and restaurant associations about how to target customers, officials said.

The conference, scheduled for Tuesday through Oct. 9, will be at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center in Shepherdstown. The hotel is operated by Ken Lowe, who was instrumental in bringing the conference to Shepherdstown.

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Gov. Cecil H. Underwood will not attend the conference because he will be in Japan, officials said.

Lowe, a member of the state Tourism Commission, is a strong advocate of the state's tourism business, running continuous films in his hotel that promote the state's tourism and economic development.

"I don't want to say that we're the capital of tourism, but we're making great strides," Lowe said of the local tourism trade.

One of the areas on which conference organizers hope to focus next week is how communities across the state can capitalize on their historic heritage, said Kathy Johnson, conference coordinator.

Many communities do not realize how much Civil War history they have, she said.

Business owners attending the conference will see how the local area promotes its Civil War history through tours of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., and other areas, said Johnson.

Tourism in the Eastern Panhandle goes beyond history, including car and horse racing, whitewater rafting and shopping, said Kelly Todd, director of the Jefferson County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"I think here we have a more complete package," she said.

The conference is sponsored by a long list of businesses and organizations, including Southern Living magazine, The Washington Post and Readers Digest.

Southern Living, which has been helping sponsor the conference for 10 years, will set up a booth at the meeting and hand out free magazines, said Johnson.

Having national publications in the area for the event can lead to them printing stories about the area, said Johnson.

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