Tour de force Visitors are finding that baseball is not the only game in town

July 09, 1993|By Mary Corey | Mary Corey,Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, area tour guides and Celebrate BaltimoreStaff Writer

OK, OK, so most of us dream of checking out of town these days. Believe it or not, there are folks who flock to Baltimore in the summertime.

Just look at the lines that wind around the National Aquarium. Or try getting a table at Obrycki's on a Saturday night. Better yet, join the masses at a baseball game.

In the next few days, some 150,000 tourists will arrive in town for All-Star festivities. But who comes at other times? And what are they doing here, anyway?

Altogether this year, more than 5 million visitors will drop by Charm City, nearly half staying only for the day. Between eating crab cakes and buying souvenirs, they'll bring some $400 million into the city, according to the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. The average Baltimore tourist is 40 years old, with a median household income of $60,000 and a college degree, according to Ray Bird, a division manager with the City Department of Planning. Nearly 80 percent are here for pure pleasure; the rest come for business, conventions or to visit relatives.

Newcomers, say area tour guides, want "soft adventure" -- the tourist equivalent of a PG-13 movie.

"People want to have a little adventure," says Zippy Larson, owner of Shoe Leather Safaris, a Baltimore tour company. "They want something they can go home and tell their friends and family about, something that gives them bragging rights. But they don't want to be exposed to anything radically different. In some sense, Harborplace is that. It resembles a mall with the anchor stores being the Aquarium and the Science Center. It's pleasantly located on the water; it's air-conditioned, and it feels vacationy."

Zack Hanle, an editor at large at Bon Appetit, recently visited the city for the first time in many years.

"We went with great misgivings," she says. "My memory of Baltimore . . . was that there was a dinginess about the whole area. It was gray and dour looking. When we got this assignment, I thought, 'Oh no.' All I could remember was this dismal place. So everything turned out to be a glorious surprise."

In addition to the bigger attractions like Harborplace, tourists report that they're charmed by the many smaller museums in the city (including the Edgar Allan Poe House, the Museum of Industry and the City Life Museums) as well as the variety of boat trips (water taxis, dinner cruises, sightseeing tours).

And in the last year, one of Ms. Larson's more offbeat tours -- "The Woman He Loved: The Duchess, the King and the Baltimore Connection" -- has become a crowd-pleaser. "Thanks to Andrew and Fergie and Chuck and Di, it's taken off," she says.

When tourists do complain, tourism officials say it's most often about the lack of cabs, poor hotel service and panhandlers.

Although tour guides would never dream of complaining about TC their tourists, they are sometimes bewildered by what they come up with.

L Among the goofiest questions they've fielded over the years:

* How often do they empty the harbor to clean it?

* Which hotels have rooms with swimming pools in them?

* Are the fireworks indoors?

"And one lady wanted to take a boat to Mount Vernon," says Ina Fleischer, spokeswoman with the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. "We try not to laugh. But sometimes it's hard."

Baltimore Tourists at a Glance

Where they're most often from: Pennsylvania.

How long they stay: Forty-eight percent are day-trippers. The rest stay between three and four days.

How much they spend while here: Between $100 and $200 per day.

What they must see: Harborplace, the National Aquarium, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Maryland Science Center, Fort McHenry.

Their chief complaint about the city: The lack of cabs. However, in the last month, the most common gripe has been that there are no hotel rooms left for All-Star week.

Their favorite souvenirs: Postcard of the Harbor skyline (about 35 cents); magnet outlining the state that says "Maryland is for Crabs" (about $1.50).

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