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Region's tourism stands tall, bureau says

| Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, 10:12 p.m.

Since Kelly Linn became executive director of West Overton Village and Museum in April 2011, she has worked tirelessly to enhance the site's aura of authenticity with the goal of appealing to potential tourists.

“The results of our toiling for 16 months have really paid off,” said Linn of the attraction near Scottdale — one of only two pre-Civil War villages listed on the National Register of Historic Places — which recently reopened to the public.

The work Linn has completed — including a complete revitalization of the facility's 5,600-square-foot distillery museum space — is just the kind of effort espoused by the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau.

“Tourism is more than just one organization ... it's all about partnership,” said Richard J. Allan, secretary of the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, during his address as featured speaker of bureau's recently held annual dinner at Seven Springs Mountain Resort.

It was Linn's first time attending the event. She came away with plenty of praise for the organization.

“We kind of feel like we've built the museum from the ground up and we're excited about the opportunity we have to market that space,” Linn said.

“I believe we have this opportunity to work with the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, and they with us, I think it's the epitome of teamwork, and that's great since we're working toward the same goals.”

In his annual address at the event, Ronald W. Virag, the bureau's executive director, stressed that the latest statistics reflect that travelers spent $1.6 billion in the Laurel Highlands providing for almost 14,000 jobs that produced earnings of $323 million.

He thanked the commissioners on hand from Westmoreland, Fayette and Somerset counties — the three composing the Laurel Highlands ­— for their support of the 3 percent hotel tax.

The tax is paid by travelers who stay overnight in the lodging properties across the Laurel Highlands, Virag said.

“It is the hotel tax that really helps keep us going,” Virag said. “Without your support, tourism would not be the economic driver and one of the leading industries in the Laurel Highlands that it is today.”

Virag also noted that the bureau's annual report revealed that the organization's audited financial statements for Fiscal Year 2011-12 received an unqualified opinion.

“The (bureau's) financials speak for themselves, and certainly attest to the viability of the bureau and to our fiscal stewardship,” he said.

The report also conveyed what Virag called the “dramatic” growth of the bureau's website in between years 2010-11 and 2011-12.

“The growth of the use of our website is dramatic and incontestable proof that the marketing tools and initiatives that we are employing to foster interest and tourism in the Laurel Highlands are working and working well,” Virag said.

During the event, the bureau bestowed honors upon four people for their work in the local tourism trade in 2012.

Sarah DeLorenzo, office manager of Benner's Meadow Run Camping and Cabins, was named the bureau's 2012 tourism employee of the year.

Brad and Maureen Smith, owners of the Confluence Cyclery in Confluence, Somerset County, were jointly named the bureau's 2012 entrepreneurs of the year.

Eric Martin, proprietor of Wilderness Voyagers in Ohiopyle, Fayette County, received the bureau's trailblazer of the year award for 2012.

A.J. Panian is a staff editor with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or apanian@tribweb.com.

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