As a tourist attraction, Baltimore County hardly ranks with southern California, central Florida or even downtown Baltimore. Still, the county government could be missing a golden opportunity by giving short shrift to the promotion of tourism.
The tourism program launched in 1990 by then-County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen, with its "Horses, Water and Wine" theme, fell victim to the recession. Mr. Rasmussen's successor, Roger B. Hayden, was faced with the necessity of slashing overall spending, so he closed the county's Office of Tourism and halved the $200,000 tourism budget. In a sour economy, the selling of package tours tends to tumble on a government's priority list.
Worried owners of county hotels and attractions lately have urged the Hayden administration to be more aggressive in marketing tourism. Baltimore County charges an 8 percent tax on hotel rooms, earning the county about $4 million a year. (Among Maryland's 23 other jurisdictions, only Prince George's County has a higher room surcharge, at 10 percent.) The hotel and attraction owners want the county to use more of that $4 million to publicize local tourist sites. They argue it would be money well-spent -- more tourists would boost revenues for county coffers and heighten awareness of the area among out-of-county residents and business operators who just might develop an interest in moving here.