- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 2, 2003

VIRGINIA BEACH (AP) Virginia typically ranks in the top 10 among states as a destination for black vacationers, and the Hampton Roads area was the sixth-most popular destination for them three years ago, according to recently released research by travel specialists.
A state program that wants to lure more black tourists to Virginia recently awarded $165,000 in grants to organizations and localities. The grant money was taken from funds for state black tourism efforts that Virginia lawmakers allocated three years ago.
The amount includes $17,000 awarded to the Virginia Beach Convention and Visitor Bureau to produce a brochure featuring the city's black-history sites. The brochure, which will offer a chance for a free trip to those who fill out a form, will be sent to other states.
A group of cultural centers and museums in Norfolk received $20,000, and the Hampton Convention and Visitor Bureau along with other museums won two grants totaling $38,000.
The number of black tourists coming to Virginia is growing. In 2000, more than 2.8 million visited Virginia. Last year, more than 3.4 million visited, a 21 percent increase.
Tourists spent nearly $13 billion in Virginia last year, said Martha W. Steger, director of public relations for the Virginia Tourism Corp. Black tourists made up 11 percent of the state's visitors, she said.
"We've seen increased numbers with the little bit of promotion we have done," she said. "We wanted to do more."
Grant money from the program will help Virginia Beach officials gauge the effectiveness of promotional materials.
For example, the city's brochure will be passed out at an upcoming National Urban League meeting in hopes of luring a convention there, said Ron Kuhlman, director of marketing and sales for Virginia Beach's Department of Convention and Visitor Development.
Norfolk officials also hope a convention will come to their city.
Anthony J. DiFilippo, president and chief executive officer of Norfolk's tourism bureau, said the bureau will use its grant money to participate in this spring's gathering of the National Coalition of Meeting Planners. Norfolk is trying to attract the coalition's convention in 2005, he said.
Grant money will also be used for ads in black travel journals, Mr. DiFilippo said.
In nearby Hampton, some of the grant money will help improve a brochure listing black-heritage sites, said Mary Fugere, media-relations manager for the convention and visitors bureau. The brochure was developed in 1996.
Another promotional piece featuring black-heritage sites, a video that state tourism officials recently finished, will play at conventions. It cost $25,000 to produce.
Two years ago, state officials produced a 36-page glossy guide that lists more than 100 of the state's black-heritage sites.

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