Marilyn Black, vice president of the Oil Regional Alliance of Business, Industry and Tourism, pulled her chair up to a table Wednesday to join a group of others to discuss what is needed in a new state Strategic Tourism Master Plan.

She was part of approximately 50 persons from the four-county region, all interested in what’s included in a new statewide plan to promote the tourist industry.

The contingent assembled at the Bessemer Building for the session, led by Mickey Rowley, deputy secretary of tourism in the Department of Community Development.

It was the last of seven such sessions held across the state in preparation for the new plan. “The five-year plan is an all-state tourism and marketing plan,” he said. “It is a partnership with private industry and the state.”

“The state is listening and so is the industry,” he said. “What’s important for Pennsylvania is to have a more effective tourism (industry).”

Each group of about 12 persons was asked to answer several questions to be included in a report taken back to the state.

Black handed a marking pen to Jay Nesbit of Travel Host magazine of Cleveland, Ohio, who began writing on a paper attached to an easel. Nesbit wrote as group members gave one-word answers to various questions, flipping the pages as they quickly filled up with responses.

All those in attendance have some role in the tourism industry, be it as an agency staff member or a provider.

They were asked to define such things as local and state tourism initiatives which have had the most effect on business. They were also queried about factors (external from local and state) that have affected the tourism business, as well as what was needed to help tourism.

Answering the first question, members of the group cited such things as festivals, sports tournaments and car cruises. State initiatives which have helped include the fact there is no sales tax on clothing, said Leeann Smith, director of the Grove City Chamber of Commerce.

In addition, state initiatives include a new Web site, the hotel tax and the regional marketing group.

More and better signage was one thing that participants identified as a huge need. Another was better information at welcome centers.

Prior to breaking up into smaller groups, Dewey told members that at the end of the session, all the papers will be collected and taken to Harrisburg for review with the results of the other six sessions.

Richard Bonds of the tourism department reviewed the 1990 plan that is now being updated, citing the successes and areas which still need to be improved.

While the state didn’t achieve its goal to have fewer tourist promotion agencies, it did succeed in developing regional marketing groups, making the marketing more effective.

He said the tourist industry wants a dedicated source of revenue and one suggestions is to “take 1 percent of the sales tax on accommodations” for that source. Another suggestions was to take a percent of the profits of the Liquor Control Board, but noted that was quickly defeated.

One success has been the Web page, which is not only receiving more hits, but those tapping into are using more of the links — up from eight to 50 hits per session. “They (Internet users) are not just looking at the home site,” he said.

Rowley was appreciative of the local group’s participation, noting it was the largest of the seven held throughout the state.

Jane Smith can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at jsmith@meadvilletribune.com

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