Restaurant owner pleads to save threatened county tourism agency

January 22, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

If the Carroll County Office of Tourism falls under the budget ax, county businesses will suffer, a Hampstead restaurateur contended yesterday.

"The Office of Tourism is an asset to the county," said Frank C. Kosmakos, owner of Maria's in Hampstead. "It does much of the promotion work needed to draw people to the county.

"The office coordinates and gets the word out for businesses, who don't have time to do that."

Mr. Kosmakos' comments came as a reaction to the suggestion Tuesday by County Commissioner Donald I. Dell that the tourism office might be cut from the county budget in the current money crunch.

In an interview yesterday, Mr. Kosmakos cited as an example, the 1992 Maryland Wine Festival in Westminster, which enriched the county coffers by nearly $73,000, according to Department of Recreation and Parks figures.

The annual, two-day event drew more than 20,000 people to the county and probably boosted area business by two to three times that amount, Carroll officials said.

Much of that profit could be attributed to the efforts of the Office of Tourism, which marketed the event statewide and coordinated other activities, including a bike tour, on the same weekend.

The festival is one of many events the office promotes.

Joan Meekins, the Office of Tourism's program administrator, said a state audit attributes $820,000 directly to her office's promotions. In 1992, the staff also distributed 177,110 brochures, touting county sites.

Mr. Kosmakos said the tourism office is essential as a stimulus to business in Carroll: "Tourism pumps more money into the economy than any other industry. It's really short-sighted of any politician who doesn't see that."

Mr. Kosmakos is forming a consortium of government and business leaders to keep tourism healthy here. The group, which already has 12 members, plans to meet for the first time next week.

"Tourism is the largest industry in the world and a source of dollars with the greatest return," he said. "If we don't compete, we will be losers to other states and counties who are competing for the same tourism dollars."

The consortium would help county officials and state legislators recognize the importance of the industry.

"Without business, there is no economy," he said. "Business has to nudge government in the right direction."

Carroll County Commissioner Julia W. Gouge disagreed with Mr. Dell at the Tuesday meeting. She said promoting tourism is an important part of the county's economic development, and urged association members to keep statistics to show how special events generate more business.

That will be the consortium's first order of business, said Ms. Meekins, who will work with the new group. "We are going to follow up on Mrs. Gouge's suggestion and put those figures into an understandable format," she said.

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