Tight budget hurts bid to promote Md.

TOURIST-CLASS AD CAMPAIGN

June 01, 1993|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Staff Writer

The state's official tourism slogan is: "Maryland. More than you can imagine." Yet, when it comes to funding tourism promotions, the motto could be: "Much less than we need."

Neighboring states of Virginia, Pennsylvania and West Virginia annually spend millions of dollars on television spots to lure tourists. Maryland restricts its ads to the printed page -- and often those ads must piggyback on the promotion of a business or government agency.

"Unfortunately, we may have the will, but not the means," said R. Dean Kenderdine, assistant secretary for the Department of Economic and Employment Development.

Much is at stake in the battle for tourists' dollars. In 1990 -- the most recent statistics available -- tourism pumped $8.1 billion into the economy of Virginia and $9.1 billion into Pennsylvania, according to the U.S. Travel Data Center in Washington. In Maryland, tourism accounted for $4.6 billion of economic activity.

But as Maryland heads into the summer tourism season, state officials are hopeful that advertising efforts will start the long climb toward parity with neighboring states.

Compared with Virginia and Pennsylvania, Maryland is in the minor leagues of tourism promotion. Virginia's $9.7 million tourism budget and Pennsylvania's $11.8 million budget dwarf Maryland's $5.1 million allocation.

The comparison is even more lopsided when only advertising budgets are considered. In the 1991-1992 fiscal year, Virginia spent $5.3 million on advertising, the fourth highest amount in the nation, according to the U.S. Travel Data Center. Pennsylvania came in 15th at $3 million, and West Virginia was 21st at $2.3 million. Maryland was 35th with a budget of $733,552.

Maryland's ad budget has since grown to about $1 million. George Williams, director of the Office of Tourism Development, tries to stretch it with joint projects between the state and tourism companies or publications. The division also has branched out into international promotion in a cooperative effort with Virginia and the District of Columbia.

One example of the money-stretching: a recently launched billboard campaign that features various Maryland scenes with the tag line, "You are not here. But you could be." The promotion will be on 250 billboards across the state during the next year.

The division spent only $19,000 is to create the ad. The $70,000 cost for paper and printing costs were picked up by the Maryland Lottery, and $175,000 worth of billboard space was donated by the Outdoor Advertising Association of Maryland.

Meanwhile, Mr. Kenderdine, who heads the department's Division of Tourism and Promotion, predicts a turnaround.

Last Thursday, Gov. William Donald Schaefer signed a bill establishing the Tourism Development Marketing Board, a 15-person group that will develop a long-term strategy for state tourism promotion. The board must also develop a mechanism for consistent funding of the division.

State legislators also passed this year a measure that loosens the division's spending regulations to make it more "more entrepreneurial," Mr. Kenderdine said.

On another front, the division has placed public-service ads that extol the virtues of in-state tourism to Marylanders -- laying the groundwork for a long-term commitment to promotion, Mr. Kenderdine said.

Historically, there been a low appreciation for tourism promotion in the state, Mr. Kenderdine said. But this changed when the promotion-minded Mr. Schaefer took office.

With the governor's backing, the division's budget shot up $2 million to $6.8 million in the 1989-1990 fiscal year. The office also made a series of television ads featuring the governor walking along the beach in Ocean City, visiting the Antietam battlefield and taking a sleigh ride in Western Maryland.

These ads ran only in the Maryland and Northern Virginia markets.

But this burst of promotion came to an abrupt end when the recession hit. The division's budget dropped from $6.3 million in 1990-1991 to $4.8 million in 1991-1992. The next year it inched up to $5.1 million.

The reception during the 1993 General Assembly session didn't get any warmer. The division asked for a $300,000 budget increase, which the legislature denied. Then it went further and cut another $50,000 from present funding levels.

To be competitive with neighboring states, Mr. Williams would like to see his division's budget gradually increase to about $10.5 million by 1997 and to stay there for eight to 10 years -- time enough to have a meaningful impact on tourists.

With that level of commitment, the state could raise tourism's economic impact by about $1.5 billion, he says.

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