The Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureauis heading into its second year with an eye on the overnight visitorwho comes to town for meetings or conferences.
More such visitorswould help boost hotel occupancy rates and pour money generated by acounty room tax into city and county coffers, said Thomas Negri, bureau president.
"The overnight visitor spends money on room accommodations, dining out, the marine trades, the airport and airport restaurants and amusement activities," said Negri, general manager of Loews Annapolis Hotel. "It brings in an incredible amount of revenue to the county."
But, he added, "people in tough economic times just don't come traipsing to Anne Arundel County. You have to spell out the advantages."
Before the public-private partnership was formed a year ago, no marketing existed to attract overnight visitors or to tap into the largeconcentration of associations in Washington, Negri said.
The bureau grew out of the former Tourism Council, an arm of the Greater Annapolis Chamber of Commerce that mainly focused on Annapolis. It boasts
109 countywide members in hospitality-related businesses, including 22 hotels and inns, restaurants, campgrounds, attractions, festivals, charter-boat operators, travel agencies and public relations firms.
During the past year, the bureau has sponsored travel writers and bought advertisements in targeted publications in cooperation withits members.
Efforts have begun to pay off. The city and county have gained exposure through New York magazine; Roll Call, the congressional newspaper; Town and Country; Southern Living; the New York Times; and Pittsburgh magazine. And a cooperative ad in Mid-Atlantic Country in March has led to more than 500 inquiries.
The $1.4 billiontourism industry is the county's second largest, with Annapolis ranked the state's second-most-visited locale after Baltimore. The 6 percent room tax alone generates $3.5 million for the county
and $625,000 for Annapolis each year.
Still, average hotel occupancy rates stayed below break-even points last year, about 63 percent, said Herman Schieke, bureau executive director.
As more and more hotel rooms have been added over the past five or six years, the occupancy rates have remained about the same, Negri said.
Despite Annapolis' popularity, the bureau promotes the county with one of the most limited budgets in the state. This year, the bureau got $65,000 from the county, no increase from last year, and will get at least $12,000 from the city. Last year, $10,000 came from the state, but now the state hascut all money for county visitors bureaus. The bureau will rely on the private sector for the rest of its not-yet-formulated budget, Negri said.
The bureau's staff consists of Schieke and volunteers who run a clearinghouse for information on activities, facilities, eventsand attractions.
The bureau is working on a survey that will showmembers better ways to attract overnight business visitors.
The results, expected in August, will tell the bureau where business visitors come from, why they come to the county and how they heard about it, how much money they spend and how they spend it.