Tourism topic of meeting at Ohio University Southern

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 19, 2003

One part networking, one part brainstorming with the hope of increasing tourism throughout the area.

That was the gist of a meeting of regional government, tourism and economic leaders Tuesday at Ohio University Southern. Those who attended Tuesday meeting agreed that regional tourism meetings could be helpful to organizing a three-state, multi-county approach to the tourism idea.

The meeting was the brainchild of Bill Jett, services coordinator for the Workforce Development Resource Center. Jett said that since moving back to the area 25 years ago, he has realized there is the potential for tourism, if all the entities work together.

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Jett said he would like to see tour buses and tour boats bring visitors for one-to-three day excursions through the region, but few cities in the area have enough offerings to entice such ventures on their own. Jett hopes that by working together, cities along the river from Marietta to Maysville, Ky., and all points in between in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia will reap a common benefit - and a new source of income: tourism dollars.

"If you string it all together, it could be a great tour," Jett said. "Point Pleasant has a new museum, Portsmouth has its floodwall murals, there's the Underground Railroad, we have the Wayne National Forest, Ironton has the beautiful old homes of the ironmasters" Jett said. "I hope that we create a network and join together, get in contact with travel agencies and create tours."

Tourism is already a drawing card for Lawrence County and for surrounding areas. Viviane Khounlavong, director of the Lawrence County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said 40-50 people a month come to her office, asking for information about entertainment and accommodations. The office's web site, gets two to three hits per day from people who are thinking of visiting Lawrence County.

"The Wayne National Forest is a big pull," Khounlavong said. "And the Underground Railroad. Lately we've been getting inquiries about Our Lady of Fatima Shrine. After 9-11, tourism went down for a while. But we're starting to see a pattern where things are starting to pick up. People aren't wanting to travel outside the United States. They want to stay close to home."

One of the obstacles to working together is funding. Some cities are divided by more than just a river - they are also divided into three states that dole out funding to specific cities and counties, and that money doesn't cross state lines.

Jett said one solution to this could be involving the business community in the effort to draw tourists to the area.

"We're breaking out of our mold by creating dialog," Ashland, Ky., Economic Development Director Gail Melvin said. "We're all bounded by how we're funded but we should not be bound by how we think."