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Appalachian Ohio tourism leaders meet in Belmont County

T-L Photo/ROBERT A. DEFRANK Tourism leaders representing the Appalachian counties of Ohio and West Virginia met Wednesday and Thursday at the Belmont County Heritage Museum in St. Clairsville. Belmont County Tourism Director Jackee Pugh, back, right, welcomes them. Pictured counterclockwise from Pugh are Mindy Brems, executive director of the Coshocton County Convention and Visitors Bureau; Melody Young, executive director of the Ross County Chillicothe Visitors Bureau; Sonja Cropper, representing Brown County, Amy Spoutz, obscured, event and marketing coordinator with Athens County; Lisa Underwood, representing the Ohio Travel Pavilion; Chandler Grooms, tourism development director for the Pike County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau; Deana Clark, obscured, executive director of the Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau; and board president Diane Lautenschleger, from the Tuscarawas County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Belmont County Tourism Director Jackee Pugh, also a member of the Appalachian Ohio board, welcomed fellow board members representing the 32 Appalachian counties of Ohio for their yearly retreat.

“Anytime we get a cross-group of tourism professionals together there are good ideas going back and forth, and I definitely took pages of notes of things I think I can implement in the county and just our work-flow at the tourism office,” she said. “We’re always trying to raise awareness for Appalachian Ohio and the many, many unique things we can offer.”

The group met Wednesday and Thursday at the Belmont County Heritage Museum in St. Clairsville.

On Wednesday they heard from Vicki King-Maple, president of the Ohio Mid-Eastern Governments Association, who spoke about how to be effective communicators and how to build good relationships. Another speaker was Sarah Andreas, a business coach with WiseWood LLC, who spoke about resilience.

Thursday’s discussions included what area attractions to showcase on the organization’s new brochure.

Board President Diane Lautenschleger, from the Tuscarawas County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the brochure’s purpose is to tell the story of Appalachia and support all of the members in promoting the region. She added that the retreats offer opportunities to “refill their cups” and exchange ideas about how to become better leaders, better able to support tourism in their home counties.

“We are pouring out all of our energies into Appalachian Ohio. We’re really look at the organization. How can we sustain our leadership? How can we sustain the organization fiscally and support our members? What do our members need?” she said.

“We don’t want to continue to do what we have done before. We want to be fluid and respond to what our members need and how we can best showcase their tourism assets. Tourism in the Appalachian region is very big business. The economic impact is measured every other year. The 2021 impact was $4 billion in the 32-county Appalachian region.”

Their mission is to grow the Appalachian region’s economy through tourism.

“We are really talking about looking at our organization critically. Do we have enough prospective future board members in the pipeline? We had a lot of discussion about that,” she said. “Right now our organization, because it’s small, we represent Appalachia, we always operate revenue-neutral. What we take in in revenue, we always expend again in our expenses.”

She said this has worked well for the organization.

The members are no strangers to Belmont County. Lautenschleger said several years ago Appalachian Ohio had a membership meeting in Morristown.

“We love Belmont County. It’s been an excellent spot to have our annual retreat,” Lautenschleger said.

“When we move our meeting location, it allows our members to experience communities that they might not otherwise be there,” she said. “When those members come in for a meeting, they’re probably going to stop at a coffee shop. Our board always comes the night before, so we’re spending the night at a local hotel, eating at a local restaurant.”

Lautenschleger also said interest in the area has grown in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and tourism boards are taking advantage of this.

“Appalachia became extra-popular during COVID,” she said. “Because of all the outdoor recreation opportunities. Because we are less concentrated population-wise.”

She said all are welcome to experience the area’s hospitality.

“We’re ready to welcome all the visitors in 2024,” she said.

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