Three women from Wallowa County who traveled to Berlin for the largest international tourism trade show in the world in early March hope to help pave a well-traveled path between Germany and Wallowa County for German tourists in the years to come.
Making the trip to the International Tourism Exchange show (or International Touismus-Boerse, commonly referred to ITB) were German-speaking Heather Tyreman, who owns the Bronze Antler bed and breakfast in Joseph; Berlin-born Bernice Bernotat, a ranch and vacation rental owner; and Claresse O'Connor, who owns Timberline Realty in Joseph and knows the county very well.
The trio will give the first public report on their experiences at the show at a Wallowa County Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting at 7:30 a.m. April 10, at Mountain Air Cafe in Joseph.
"It was exciting, and it was also a lot of hard work," said O'Connor, who admitted that she had never been out of North America before this trip. Though she speaks no German, she had no trouble with the language barrier - some 90 percent of Germans speak English and are happy to have someone to practice on.
Also part of a larger contingent from the Northwest were two Pendleton women, Bobbie Conner, director of Tamastslikt Cultural Institute, and Michelle Liberty of Wildhorse Casino Resort, who have been to the trade show in past years.
Wallowa County's participation in the March 7-11 show was organized by Sara Miller of the Enterprise-based office of Northeast Oregon Economic Development District. She was a German exchange student as a youth and has often played host to German guests in Wallowa County. "They gobbled it up," she said of the German appreciation of Eastern Oregon's western heritage and physical attributes.
Miller heard about the trade show from the Oregon Tourism Commission (OTI), and put out feelers in the community to see what kind of support there would be in local participation.
The goal would be to entice German media and travel writers to visit Wallowa County, and feature area attractions in German magazines, newspapers and television.
Miller describes German travelers as "educated, adventurous and independent" and said they like to interact with "real people" and form personal friendships.
Germans love West
While Bernotat says Germany's residents are as diverse as people everywhere, she agreed they shared a love of history, nature and a fascination with America as a whole, and the American west in particular. Native American history and culture hold a special place in
the German heart.
"There was an immediate interest in the project," said Miller. To get the project underway the Bronze Antler applied for grant money from Northeast Oregon Alliance, and $4,808 was awarded, with an equal match required. Financial supporters to date have included the Wallowa County Chamber of Commerce, Joseph Merchant Association, Wallowa Lake Tourism Committee, the cities of Joseph and Enterprise, Joseph Fly Shoppe, Scenic Rentals, Bronze Antler and Timberline Realty. The Wallowa County Photo Club was generous with its talent, donating a few calendars and screensavers as special gifts, and putting together a scenic slide show of the county, shown on a borrowed laptop.
To save money eventually Wallowa County opted to form a part of the OTI booth at the German show, under the coordination of Billie-Rathbun Moser of Portland. Among other state groups taking part were the Eugene/Lane County Oregon Visitors Association and the Portland Oregon Visitors Association.
New direct flight
While Oregon has been represented at the giant Berlin show in the past, an added impetus this year was the fact that the airline Lufthansa was inaugurating a direct nonstop flight between Portland and Frankfurt, Germany, at the end of March. The easy access promises to make the state even more popular with German tourists.
The show was truly international, with every continent except Antarctica represented.
"To give you an idea of the scale, there were 26 buildings on this convention site," said Tyreman. The United States Pavilion was only one level of one building. Participating were over 9,000 exhibitors from 180 countries and territories. It was estimated that 60,000 travel professionals would attend.
While the women enjoyed the chance to visit Germany and were fascinated by the diversity of cultures represented at the show, they never lost track of their purpose: to motivate as many people as possible to not only to come to Oregon, but to come to Wallowa County. A data base of all contacts made at the show is one concrete outcome of the trip.
Among the attractions they said they emphasized were the geographic diversity of Wallowa County, Hells Canyon, the hundreds of miles of hiking trails, the county's role as the homeland of Chief Joseph and the modern presence of the Nez Perce and the bronze foundries.
Bernotat, along with Bobbie Conner, appeared on a local Berlin television station, to talk about why German visitors should want to travel to Eastern Oregon.
"You know how it is, when you believe in something, it's easy to sell it," said Bernotat. "There is something here for everyone."
Miller said that while it is expected to take up to three years to really see an increase in tourism from the trade show, the experience is already bearing fruit in the form of closer ties with other tourism areas in the state. One group of German travel writers visiting Oregon this spring could opt to include Wallowa County this spring.
According to the county chamber, one travel tour company which discovered Wallowa County at the German show has already asked for more information and expressed interest in putting together tours to the county. Ironically, the company caters to Japanese tourists, rather than those from Germany.