By Rick Hiduk
Morgan Christopher (standing) speaks to Endless Mountains Visitors Bureau members at a marketing workshop about how to accommodate tour operators and meeting planners when they come to their business.
The Endless Mountain Visitors Bureau (EMVB) has made outstanding progress in the past year in not only putting the four-county (Bradford, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Wyoming) area on the radar for travel agencies in northeastern United States and Canada but also helping tour and meeting planners realize that the region is easily accessible via highways with which they were already familiar.
As new hotels were being built in the region and older ones were renovated to accommodate an influx of workers associated with the natural gas industry, the EMVB felt the time was right for a major outreach campaign. With board support, EMVB hired Morgan Christopher as a sales consultant to spearhead this new endeavor.
“We were very fortunate that we are able to bring Morgan on,” explained EMVB Executive Director Jean Ruhf. “With over 12 years in tourism, Morgan hit the ground running. There was no learning curve. He had all the contacts.”
Hotel owners, understanding that gas-related activity will ebb and flow in the coming years, have been especially supportive of the agency’s efforts. “Typically, with this kind of stuff, it takes a little while to get rolling, but we began to see a return on our investment from the beginning,” Ruhf stated.
During the course of 2013 and the first three months of the new year, EMVB staff members have attended numerous travel shows and conducted meetings with a variety of entities interested in bringing customers and clients to the Endless Mountains. They often seem surprised to find out how convenient the region is to reach and how much there is to see and do here.
“When people think of the Endless Mountains, they think of two lane roads,” Christopher said. “But if you look at the map, we are literally boxed by major highways.” Interstates 81 and 80 flank the region to the east and south, the future Route 99 is just one county to the west, and the New York State Throughway parallels Pennsylvania’s Northern Tier.
The picture that Christopher paints of the Endless Mountains to those who will inevitably travel somewhere is a composition gleaned from years of experience in tourism marketing and the ability to simultaneously see the past, present and potential future of the region.
Christopher swells with pride when he is able to convince the leaders of travel agencies and tour bus companies that what they are seeking is right here in the Endless Mountains.
“The area is just so rich in the real Americana, especially to people who live in big cities,” Christopher stated. “The scenery is breathtaking. It’s an area that you can come to and leave your work and electronics behind. You can take a walk and breathe in the fresh air. There’s no other place like it.”
Among the region’s growing assets are wineries and breweries, quilt shops and festivals, rail trails, the Route 6 Corridor, fall foliage, skiing and unique meeting places. Rather than being stuck indoors in a convention center where you barely see daylight, Ruhf noted, EMVB can help connect meeting planners with interesting venues including restored theaters, churches, fire companies, and lodges at nature centers and parks. These types of venues are largely run and maintained by non-profit organizations, which is an added appeal, she stated.
Ruhf noted that Christopher’s efforts have gone well beyond attracting the attention of travel agents and bus companies. “The other aspect of what he does is working with travel writers and getting them to come to the area,” she explained. “We just had a writer come down to Eagles Mere, and a Toronto newspaper is going to do a story on the wineries and breweries in the area.”
According to Christopher and Ruhf, hotel managers in the Endless Mountains have reported increases in inquiries and bookings directly related to the efforts of the EMVB.
For more information about the Endless Mountains Visitors Bureau and to access a continuously updated calendar of events, interested readers should log on to www.EndlessMountains.org.