By Rachel Carter
Travelers often ignore political boundaries. Tourists don’t set out to see one city or one park or one museum; they want to see it all — or as much of it as possible. State agencies are recognizing and reaping the benefits of partnering with nearby cities, convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs), and attractions to package statewide and regional tours that showcase their state’s diverse regions, cultures and traditions.
The Virginia travel industry partners statewide because doing so highlights the state’s diverse cultures and traditions, from fishing communities on the Atlantic Coast to rural regions in the Appalachian Mountains, said Richard Lewis, national media relations director for the Virginia Tourism Corporation.
The group acts as a conduit among the state’s domestic marketing organizations to encourage and foster partnerships, help develop new tours and promote existing trips, Lewis said.
The cities of Richmond, Fredericksburg and Lynchburg have created the Virginia Civil War Circle Tour, which includes two nights and several Civil War sites in each city.
Another popular regional trip is The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, a 400-mile route that showcases the birthplace of “mountain music” and musicians such as the Stoneman Family and the Carter Family.
Groups can start or stop anywhere on the trail, but many begin in Heartwood and end in Abingdon, taking in banjo players and fiddlers at music venues along the way. One popular stop is the Carter Family Fold, the homestead of country music’s first supergroup, which features live music in a 1,000-seat venue.
Local agencies can use state resources to promote their group tour products, and the biggest resource is the state’s website. Cities or regional associations such as the Shenandoah Valley Travel Association can post information about their attractions, destinations and tour services, as well as photos and links to their own websites, directly to Virginia.org, which gets 7 million unique visits per year, Lewis said.
The state’s domestic sales team also provides consultation, facilities and other services to bring local partners together and keep them informed about what tour operators and individual travelers are looking for. The state represents local agencies at national conferences and conventions, offers grants to help market their products and organizes an annual statewide tourism conference each fall.
The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism organizes a group travel summit at least twice a year to bring together group travel leaders — they call themselves the A-Team — from around the state. Fourteen of these leaders attended the June summit to strategize how to market themselves, discuss their needs, and plan and budget for upcoming trade shows, conventions and sponsorships, said Cheryl Ferguson, group travel consultant for the state.
The state works closely with local CVBs to develop regional and statewide itineraries, and Ferguson said local organizations have partnered independently. About five years ago, northwest Arkansas — Bentonville, Eureka Springs, Fayetteville and Fort Smith — started working together to sell each other’s areas.
“They’ve learned there’s a value in selling the area rather than just focusing on their city,” she said.
The state and local CVBs also share the cost of booths and sponsorships at trade shows. An A-Team delegation represents Arkansas, and everyone wears matching shirts. With a dozen or so representatives at a convention, “people notice we’re there, and they want to talk to us,” Ferguson said.
One northwest region itinerary includes an early-20th-century train ride from Fort Smith to Springdale, where the motorcoach meets the group and drives to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, which is a “hot commodity right now,” she said.
Ferguson said a partner tour operator put together the Dynamic Duo package, a one- or two-day trip that features Little Rock and Hot Springs. Guests can visit the Clinton Presidential Library or Heifer Village in Little Rock. In Hot Springs, guests can see Bathhouse Row, fill a jug from a bubbling thermal-water fountain, check out the Gangster Museum of America or bet on a horse race at Oaklawn.
Mount Magazine State Park is another popular destination. The sales director at the Lodge at Mount Magazine works with wineries in Fort Smith to package wine tours and tastings, Ferguson said.