Baltimore, the state’s top tourist destination, has seen business travel and tourism pick up in recent years.

By Jenny Hottle, Daily Record Business Writer
June 25, 2014
Originally posted on thedailyrecord.com

From the mountains in western counties to the plains along the Eastern Shore, Maryland has been experiencing a growth in tourism revenue that is outpacing that of the region. And with national forecasts of increased visitor spending over the next four years, state tourism industry officials are looking at ways to build upon this growth.

More than 110 members and sponsors of the Maryland Tourism Council — a statewide advocacy association of hospitality and tour organizations — are meeting Wednesday at the Maryland Science Center to discuss the future of the state’s tourism industry.

Panelists at MTC Take Pride: The Baltimore Tourism Experience will focus on casinos, heritage tourism and the city’s waterfront, said Jill Feinberg, event chairwoman and Star-Spangled 200 marketing and communications director.

Ross Peddicord, MTC chair, said the organization decided to hold the event in Baltimore to highlight the city’s varied tourism initiatives.

Baltimore, the state’s top tourist destination, has seen business travel and tourism pick up in recent years, said Tom Noonan, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore. Conventions and Orioles games drive the industry, particularly between St. Patrick’s Day and Nov. 15.

The city is working to fill in what Noonan calls the “soft season” — the slower months of the year — through bringing more sporting and cultural events on weekends. In February, Visit Baltimore combined museum, restaurant and hotel deals for the city’s first-ever Absolutely Febulous event. Long-term, Noonan expects the Horseshoe Casino to add sustainable economic growth, followed by the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport expansion and the Harbor Point development.

Competition from nearby Washington and Philadelphia is tough, particularly in the convention business — an industry Baltimore relies on to fill large numbers of hotel rooms and support restaurants and retailers.

But Baltimore is partnering with San Antonio and Anaheim, California, through Synchronicities to simplify the process of planning meetings for organizations, which Noonan said could help leverage each city’s convention bookings.

Baltimore’s convention center is smaller than most others in the region. But Noonan said Baltimore can meet the needs of about 75 percent of the convention market, and nearby hotels help support the demands for lodging.

“Conventions are probably the area that’s easiest to make a big change in,” said Noonan, the moderator of Wednesday’s panel discussion. “If you can build a strong convention season, the tourists will fill in around it.”

Annually, Visit Baltimore looks to help book about 500,000 hotel rooms for the future. Since 2007, it’s filled between 450,000 and 525,000 each year.

“If we keep having that in place, we’ll be doing well for the city,” Noonan said.

On a state level, tourism is surpassing industry growth in other states.

More than 36 million domestic travelers visited Maryland in 2013, a 33.3 percent increase from 2007, according to a national survey by D.K. Shifflet and Associates released earlier this month. That’s nearly double the nation’s overall 17.2 percent increase during the same period and higher than growth in other mid-Atlantic states. Travelers accounted for increases in business and leisure visits, along with day trips and overnight stays.

In 2013, tourism generated $381.4 million in revenue for the state, a 1 percent increase from 2012, according to the Bureau of Revenue Estimates. The industry employs about 135,000 Maryland residents.

“It keeps increasing every year,” said Peddicord, who is also the director of the Maryland Horse Industry Board.

Maryland’s biggest tourist activities are culinary- or dining-based — think crab cakes topped with extra Old Bay — along with shopping and sightseeing, said Margot Amelia, Maryland Office of Tourism executive director.

Also on the horizon for Maryland tourism: “heritage tourism,” Feinberg said.

In 2012, the state launched a multi-year celebration of Maryland’s historical contributions to the nation, starting with the War of 1812 bicentennial week-long event in June 2012 and culminating in September’s Star-Spangled Spectacular. More than 1.5 million people came in 2012 — about a third of them from out of state — and Feinberg anticipates a larger crowd this fall.

“No doubt, there are a lot of people who are really interested in history,” Amelia said. “But we almost don’t have to market them because they’re really into it, and they’re going to show up.”

Though the MTC panel focuses on Baltimore initiatives, Peddicord sees the discussion as an opportunity to explore the potential impact of other state tourism and entertainment projects.

“Look at the casino in National Harbor that’s going to come into play within two years,” Peddicord said. “That’s going to be a global casino in Prince George’s County. The number of visitors here is just going to skyrocket. The growth is just positive.”

In September, U.S. Travel Outlook reported a “clouded outlook” on national tourism because of issues such as rising mortgage rates, weak foreign markets and federal budget issues. And tourism industry leaders are feeling the competition from other states that have similar urban, mountain and beach destinations.

Virginia and North Carolina historically have larger tourism budgets than Maryland, and they’re advertising to the same kind of traveler, Amelia said: people with disposable incomes and the time to travel.

But Maryland’s tourism industry budget increased in fiscal year 2014, giving the Office of Tourism more funds to afford advertising and promote its “Land Of ” campaign.

Peddicord said the variety of state attractions — from Artscape in Baltimore to the boardwalk in Ocean City — and the state’s location along the East Coast will continue increasing the influx of tourists.

“Half of the U.S. population is within 500 miles of Maryland — that’s incredible,” Peddicord said. “The [Chesapeake] bay is such a huge asset, and we’ve got miles of shorelines. We have so much history, and the restaurant scene is really developing. We’re really very fortunate.”

Featured image by Jenny Hottle.

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