Nearly four dozen special guests will visit the Quad-Cities next week.
They will do all the typical tourist things — visit attractions, see the Mississippi River, learn about John Deere and enjoy the tastes and spirits of the Quad-Cities.
It certainly is not the biggest conference to meet here. Nor is their four-day stay anything for the record books in tourism dollars. However, these visitors’ craft — travel writing — will help spread the word about the Quad-Cities, and that has local tourism officials rolling out the red carpet.
The Quad-Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau will host 45 members of the Midwest Travel Writers Association on Oct. 3-6 for their annual fall conference. In existence for 60 years old, it is considered the nation’s oldest travel journalist association.
“It’s a big coup to land this conference,” said Charlotte Doehler-Morrison, the bureau’s vice president of marketing and communications. “Once these writers leave the Quad-Cities, they will produce a wealth of travel stories for magazines and newspapers that promote our region to visitors from across the Midwest.”
The visiting writers’ work is seen in such magazines as AAA Living, Midwest Living, The Iowan and Chicago Magazine and in newspapers such as Chicago Tribune, Journal & Topics, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Minneapolis Star Tribune, St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Indianapolis Star. The organization also includes associate members from the public relations industry.
Doehler-Morrison said the Quad-Cities won the conference bid over much larger destinations, including Ontario, Cincinnati and Louisville. The writers’ association holds a spring and fall conference.
Kathleen Webster, the owner of Webster’s Unabridged Inc., a media consultant company in Galena, Ill., is responsible for recruiting locations for the conferences. “I think people are going to be very surprised because many are not aware of the Quad-Cities,” she said. “I think they’ll be surprised by the diversity of things to do and the beautiful hotel — Hotel Blackhawk — and the Radisson nearby.”
In addition to the Quad-City familiarization tours, some guests are doing pre-tours in cities such as Galena, Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. “So it’s a good opportunity for nearby cities to show off as well,” she said.
While in the Quad-Cities, the travel writers take a variety of themed tours that highlight attractions, dining, shopping and entertainment opportunities for leisure travelers. The excursions have such titles as John Deere History and Agricultural Tour, Day at the Museums Tour, Bike and Explore Tour, Try Your Luck Casino Tour, Rock Island Arsenal Tour, Shop Till You Drop Tour, Beer and Spirits Tour, Photo Tour, Quad-Cities 101 Tour and Off the Beaten Path Tour, featuring attractions that are unusual and unique to the Quad Cities.
“As professional travel writers, we have made storytelling our life’s work, and this destination has many stories to tell — from culture to family, outdoor recreation and golf, dining, shopping and history,” said Mary Lu Laffey, the association’s past board chair. “What’s makes it even more wonderful is it all happens along the backdrop of the mighty Mississippi River. For writers, it just doesn’t get any better than this.”
Sponsors and funding assistance are being provided by Deere & Co., Riverboat Development Authority, Jumer’s Casino & Hotel, Isle Casino & Hotel, RiverCenter/Adler Theatre, Hotel Blackhawk, Radisson Quad-City Plaza, Great Rivers Country, Iowa Tourism Office, Experience Quad-Cities, LeClaire Tourism Office, and the cities of Moline, Bettendorf, Rock Island and Davenport.
According to Webster, the association likes to be accountable and encourages members to send copies of their work after a conference. To be a member, writers must have at least five stories published a year. From the stories they provide, she said the association determines the value by identifying what it would cost to purchase advertising.
Doehler-Morrison said while travel writers are not new guests for the tourism bureau, usually a visit is on a one-on-one basis. Last fiscal year, the bureau hosted 25 individual visits by travel journalists and 42 in fiscal 2010.
“This is hosting a whole entire group of writers. There’s a ton more work involved,” she said, adding that planning has been six months in the works. “This is really about publicity for the Quad-Cities and showcasing our area.’’