When Harborplace first opened in 1980, it attracted more visitors than Florida's Walt Disney World. That's not the case anymore, but the city's waterfront retail center is still the No. 1 tourist attraction in Maryland.
Harborplace attracts about 18 million people a year, according to Fran Severn, a spokeswoman with the Office of Tourism Development of the Maryland Department of Economic and Employment Development (DEED).
She says the city also has the state's second-largest attraction -- the National Aquarium at Baltimore -- in terms of the number of visitors. According to the state agency, 1.4 million tourists made their way through the winding marine life exhibit last year. The state classifies Ocean City as a destination, not an individual attraction.
It is hard to get exact figures, but tourism is big business in Baltimore, said Gil Stotler, assistant director of tourism/promotion with the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. "We've had three or four studies done in recent years and they all came up with different findings. Sometimes it gets a little confusing."
He mentioned one study by the Department of Economic and Employment Development which estimated that visitors to the Inner Harbor during 1988 added $414 million to the city's economy.
Mr. Stotler said that another study done the same year by Jeanne Beekhuis & Co., of Washington, focused only on Harborplace and tried to count the number of people that visited the retail complex.
One of the problems with this survey, he said, was "if I went to Harborplace for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I was counted three
times." This study reported a much higher economic impact than the one done by the state.
The study concluded that between 6.9 million and 7.2 million people visited the waterfront attraction between June and September 1988. "They estimate these people spent between $760 million and $790 million," said Mr. Stotler. The study also estimated that 56 percent were on day trips and 44 percent stayed overnight.
A couple of more recent studies by David Cwi & Associates of Baltimore indicates that "charm city" may have lost some of its luster. Mr. Stotler said the Cwi study tried to focus on pleasure travelers visiting the Inner Harbor, not including business travelers or convention travel.
The study estimated that during June, July and August of 1989 the region attracted an estimated 712,000 visitors. During the same three-month period last year the number of pleasure travelers dropped to 686,000.
Mr. Stotler said the decline could be misleading in that 1989 was an extremely good year.
For the entire state, DEED estimates that 34.3 million tourists visited in 1989 and spent more than $2.8 billion on food, lodging, transportation, entertainment and other travel-related expenses.
The state agency estimates that tourism added about $11 billion to the Maryland economy in 1989 and accounted for more than 107,000 jobs and $322 million in state and local taxes.