Tour highlights Philly, environs

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VALLEY FORGE -- The Southeastern Pennsylvania Travel Council is promoting the culture of Philadelphia and the charm of its surrounding counties.

This summer, the visitor bureaus of Valley Forge and Philadelphia, along with those of Bucks, Chester and Delaware counties, developed the Philadelphia and Its Countryside motorcoach tours.

Although the five bureaus have collaborated for years, according to a spokeswoman for the Valley Forge Convention and Visitors Bureau, their focus has been the international market. The 2000-2001 season marks their expansion into the domestic market.

Ann Marie Gourley, director of tourism and sales for the Valley Forge Convention and Visitor's Bureau, said the council has received early praise.

"The initiative has been well recieved by tour operators who find it easier to sell a diverse city/country product to their clients than to sell either the city or countryside separately."

"Tourists don't see county lines," said the spokeswoman for Valley Forge. "It's a much better position to be in when we view ourselves as a cohesive product instead of five separate counties vying for the same tourists."

Although the tours highlight a number of famous Revolutionary War sites, they are not only for history buffs.

Plans are being finalized for themed itineraries focusing on arts and culture; religious sites; homes and gardens; entertainment; African-American heritage, and soft adventure with canoeing, kayaking and mule barge excursions.

The spokeswoman credited group operators with being able to incorporate the region into larger packages.

"I know of one tour operator [that] packaged us with Williamsburg, Va.," she said. "It makes sense for them if they're riding through somewhere else to get to us."

A Philadelphia and Its Countryside brochure is being developed that will showcase a four-night itinerary.

The council also joined with American Express Travel Related Services to create a Web site designed for area businesses to promote themselves and offer special promotions to American Express cardholders.

According to the spokeswoman, the site, at www.northeastdestinations.com, is expected to be up in October. They also will do mailings to cardholders in New York, New Jersey, Boston and Philadelphia.

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