Canadian travel writers plan convention here

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Just a few weeks after Canadian tourism and business representatives opened "Pop-Up Canada!" for a week Downtown to promote happenings in Ontario and other provinces, a group of Canadian travel writers will be holding its annual convention here.

It's only the second time in 20 years that the group will be meeting outside Canada -- and the first time in the United States.

Turns out, the group chose Pittsburgh over Orlando, Fla., home of Walt Disney World, hundreds of lakes and reams of sunshine.

The national board of the Travel Media Association of Canada received pitches from eight cities that wanted to become the first U.S. site to host a convention by the group, which will be held May 28-31. Then the eight were narrowed to two.

"We visited both," said TMAC president Michele Sponagle, referring to Pittsburgh and Orlando.

Three committee members visited Pittsburgh to evaluate it as a possible host. Afterward those three made their recommendation to the national board.

"Orlando is well known to Canadians. Pittsburgh is lesser known, which makes it ripe for discovering," Ms. Sponagle said. The board was impressed by the material about the city submitted by its lead tourist promotion agency, VisitPittsburgh.

"VisitPittsburgh really showed us that there are so many great story ideas there," said Ms. Sponagle, of Paris, Ontario. "Many of them will be new and surprising to Canadians."

The convention will give Pittsburgh the opportunity to show off its variety of neighborhoods, topography, rivers, eateries, ethnic groups museums and artistic sites.

And the visit likely will result in many travel articles about the Steel City.

Amid convention meetings, the writers and photographers will tour sites in and around Pittsburgh.

"One of the conference goals is to have TMAC experience a new destination -- with the goal that they will write about it for their outlets," said Josephine Matyas, association vice president, media, and a freelance writer from Kingston, Ontario. She will become the new TMAC president during the convention here.

"In that way, it is a win-win for everyone involved." she said.

Connie George, vice president of communications of VisitPittsburgh, became an industry member of TMAC after the tourist bureau presented Pittsburgh as its possible convention site.

"This event will have double benefits for the city," she said. "First, because a group of about 200 people from Canada will come into town and spend their money in our hotels, attractions and stores. Secondly and more importantly, many are travel writers that have come to write stories they can tell to Canadians about visiting our region."

There will be plenty of things to write about for the Canadians, who are staying at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh, Downtown. Ms. George said there are about 38 events for the conventioneers to choose from -- everything from a walking tour of the Strip District, visits to The Andy Warhol Museum and the Mattress Factory and a hard-hat tour of Carrie Furnace.

"There are also trips focused around shopping, and one focused around Frank Lloyd Wright and going to Fallingwater," Ms. Sponagle said.

Overall, association officials were impressed with what Pittsburgh had to offer.

"Connie George and her VisitPittsburgh team were able to showcase Pittsburgh as a desirable conference destination with a large and interesting variety of story angles for travel writers to consider," Ms. Matyas said.

Pohla Smith: psmith@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1228.


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