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Franklin County urged to remain with regional tourism group

April 18, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Franklin County will draw more tourists by continuing to pool its marketing money with four other central Pennsylvania counties, representatives of a regional tourism bureau said Thursday.

But local officials said they are investigating whether the county would be better off splitting from the Hershey Capital Region Visitors Bureau and forming their own tourism promotion agency.

The Franklin County Commissioners will ultimately decide what to do with the approximately $160,000 in hotel tax money that is now going to the regional bureau.

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Bureau members came to the Quality Inn in Chambersburg on Thursday for a regularly scheduled meeting, but the main topic was Franklin County's possible withdrawal from the bureau also funded by Dauphin, Cumberland, Perry and Lebanon counties.

L. Michael Ross, president of the Franklin County Area Development Corp., said the area's economy is more closely aligned with Hagerstown and Martinsburg, W.Va., than those central Pennsylvania counties.

Some local hotel owners and Chamber of Commerce officials have complained the bureau does not give enough attention to the county, instead highlighting only major attractions like Hersheypark and Gettysburg Battlefield.

In the current visitor's guide, only 2.5 percent of the events listed in the calendar were from Franklin County, Commissioners Chairman G. Warren Elliott said.

Nancy Stewart, vice president of sales and marketing for the bureau, acknowledged the calendar of events has been incomplete.

But the bureau is working to change that, as well as launch a strategic marketing plan to get travelers from New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., interested in visiting central Pennsylvania.

Next year, the bureau is planning a magazine-style visitor's guide with more room to highlight smaller areas, Director Janis Schmees said.

The bureau plans to spend $1.2 million on sales and marketing, she said. Because the bureau consists of five counties, it has an advantage when applying for grants, she said.

Former bureau president Norma Bigham urged local officials to stick with the regional approach.

"You are now part of the big fish in a big pond. By separating, you become a small fish in a big pond. You know what happens to the little fish. It gets eaten by the big fish," she said.

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