WINCHESTER — Dozens of travel writers and tourism professionals have descended on the city.
The 14th annual Mid-Atlantic Tourism Public Relations Alliance (MATPRA) Media Marketplace conference started Tuesday and wraps up today.
More than 100 MATPRA participants are staying at the George Washington Hotel in downtown Winchester to learn about unique travel destinations in Virginia; West Virginia; Maryland; Pennsylvania; Delaware; and Washington, D.C.
Conference attendees network, attend information sessions, share story ideas and visit some of Winchester’s and Frederick County’s most popular attractions, including orchards, Civil War battlefields, the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum, the Patsy Cline House and more.
“We’ve had [familiarization] tours all afternoon today, and we had stuff last night on the [Loudoun Street] walking mall,” Justin Kerns, executive director of the Winchester-Frederick County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Wednesday evening during a mixer at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley. “The comments have been fantastic so far.”
“I did my research before I came here,” said Crystal Abrom, of Visit Howard County in Maryland, “and it’s even better than what I expected.”
MATPRA is an all-volunteer organization with the exception of one part-time administrator, and communities in the Mid-Atlantic compete to host its annual conferences. Previous locations have included Arlington; Richmond; Washington, D.C.; Gettysburg, Pa.; Rehobeth Beach, Del.; and Annapolis, Md.
Kerns said it was exciting to have Winchester selected for this year’s conference.
“We’re the fiscal agent and we have to plan the entire thing,” he said. “We take in all of the registration money from the tourism offices, the DMOs [direct marketing organizations]. They all pay $550 in registration to come, and that subsidizes all of the travel writers who come here for free.”
Travel writers are selected by a MATPRA committee in a competitive application process. This year, 54 writers are attending the conference.
Registration fees from 64 people representing 58 DMOs, combined with about $10,000 in event sponsorships, covered the Winchester-Frederick County Convention and Visitors Bureau’s approximately $41,000 cost of hosting the conference, Kerns said.
“This is the biggest [conference] they’ve ever had, and we’re proud to be part of that,” he said.
Kerns said some of the travel writers may be inspired to publish articles about Winchester and Frederick County, which could boost local tourism revenues.
A few of the writers already have ideas.
“The pedestrian walkway is very cool,” said Charles McCool, of Reston, owner of McCool Travel and a freelance writer for national publications including Conde Nast, Frommer’s, Yahoo Travel and USA Today.
“There are stories everywhere,” said Kim Foley MacKinnon, of Boston, a travel writer whose work has appeared in U.S. News and World Report, The Boston Globe, Forbes Travel Guide and various AAA magazine titles. “It’s a great place.”
Representatives from local tourism bureaus across the Mid-Atlantic are also hoping to generate stories about their communities.
“There are a lot of things we can pitch to the writers,” said Leslie Troy, of the Maryland Office of Tourism. “It’s a really great opportunity for all of us to be in one place at one time.”
“It’s not just a traditional trade show where you’re talking from behind a table,” said Cory Von Horn, of Visit Montgomery in Maryland. “You’re really immersed and interacting with the writers.”
“Maybe they’ll say, ‘Oh, I want to come see where you’re from next,’” added Ceres Bainbridge, of the Caroline Office of Tourism in Maryland.
“When I come here [to MATPRA], I can see and learn about 50 destinations in three hours,” said travel writer Malerie Yohen-Cohen, of Stanford, Conn., who operates the Getaway Mavens travel blog and has been featured in Huffington Post, Newsday and others. “It’s like speed-dating for travel writers.”
Additionally, the conference allows tourism officials to see how other Mid-Atlantic communities are being marketed.
“It’s inspirational to see what other destinations are doing, and some of the tourism products and attractions,” Troy said. “I’m going on some of the [Winchester and Frederick County] tours and thinking, ‘Oh, that’s a really great idea. Maybe I can bring that idea back with me.’”
The MATPRA attendees said they were very impressed with this year’s host city.
“It’s beautiful,” said Olivia Bragdon, of the Greater Johnstown/Cambrian County Convention and Visitors Bureau in Pennsylvania. “Absolutely beautiful.”
For more information on the Mid-Atlantic Tourism Public Relations Alliance, visit matpra.org.
— Contact Brian Brehm at [email protected]