- The Washington Times - Monday, May 8, 2000

Maryland, Virginia and the District are joining forces in cyberspace.
Capital Region USA (CRUSA), a 9-year-old coalition that markets the three jurisdictions as one destination to international visitors, is developing a Web site that will link travelers with general information about the area.
"It's meant to be an introduction to the region," said Matt Gaffney, director of marketing and promotions for the Virginia Tourism Corp. "We want to make it a one-stop shop for someone who wants to come here."
The coalition's Web site, www.capitalregionusa.org, will link visitors to the official tourism Web sites for Maryland, Virginia and the District as well as highlight some key attractions such as golf, beaches, culture, food and wine and mountains. The Web site will be in English with translation options in French, German and Portuguese.
The new Web site, expected to debut this summer, is the latest step in the coalition's efforts to get a larger piece of the international travel market.
The United States as a whole has seen a decline in its market share from international visitors.
"There are so many destinations competing with the United States," said Cathy Keefe, spokeswoman for the Travel Industry Association of America, which recently started a program to market the United States as a destination for international travelers. "It's hard [for visitors] to come to the U.S. if other countries are pouring money into marketing."
Currently the Washington metropolitan area, which does not include all parts of Virginia and Maryland, ranks eighth in top U.S. destinations visited by overseas travelers, according to Tourism Industries, a part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
"We're not anyone's first choice but we do know we are high on people's repeat list," said Julie Heizer, director of tourism for the Washington D.C. Convention and Visitors Association.
Marie Tibor, director of marketing and communications at the Greater Washington Initiative, said Washington has had a hard time convincing international travelers that there is more here than just politics.
"The majority of international tourists don't think of Washington as a tourism destination. They know what they hear on the news," said Ms. Tibor, who worked with CRUSA while at the Washington Convention and Visitors Association. "Little by little the regional effort is chipping away at the old perception of who we are."
On the domestic front, Washington, Virginia and Maryland are fierce competitors each vying for the same tourist dollars. But in the international market, the two states and the District marketed individually are up against even tougher competition.
"We're not Orlando. We're not New York or Los Angeles," Ms. Heizer said. "That's why we banded together in the first place. We didn't have the money or the reach to go after European travelers on our own … And international visitors care very little where state lines are."
CRUSA is working with a budget of about $900,000 this year that's a $300,000 increase from the group's first annual budget in 1991.
The Maryland Office of Tourism and Virginia Tourism Corp. each contribute about one third of the budget while the D.C. Committee to Promote Washington and the Washington Convention and Visitors Association donate the last third.
CRUSA also has partners that contribute money and research to the group, including the Washington Metropolitan Airport Authority. Other partners like United Airlines have signed on in an effort to increase service overseas.
The United Kingdom and Germany still remain the primary target markets based on availability of nonstop air service, travel research and international tourism trends.
CRUSA spends about $440,000 in the United Kingdom and $250,000 in Germany attending at least four consumer travel shows a year in each market, selling itself to tour operators and travel agents and advertising in consumer publications.
Marketing budgets in Latin America and France are about $22,000 each. There they focus on getting their name to tour operators and travel agents.
CRUSA offers a 50-page regional planner that highlights attractions in all three areas. The group recently introduced a smaller version of the planner in Spanish for the Latin American market.
CRUSA's original vision was to be among the top five U.S. travel destinations by 2001. Officials don't think they'll reach that goal but are pleased with the results of the coalition's efforts so far.
In 1998, visits from overseas travelers hit 1.84 million, according to CRUSA's annual report. Total spending by overseas visitors reached $1.1 billion in 1998.
Officials plan to meet this month to discuss initiatives that may or may not have worked overseas and begin to develop a new marketing plan for next year.

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