Baltimore seeks to lure black tourists Sites throughout the city touted in a 16-page brochure

November 09, 1993|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Staff Writer

Baltimore officials are unveiling today a glossy brochure that highlights the city's African-American attractions in an effort to capture a larger share of the estimated $25 billion-a-year black travel and convention business in the United States.

From the Arena Players to Union Baptist Church, the 16-page guide brings together for the first time a list of black-oriented cultural and historic sites around town.

The city has printed 60,000 copies of the brochure, and is also launching a $10,000 national advertising and marketing campaign.

"Not only do I hope it helps promote Baltimore and explains to tourists about our African-American heritage, I hope to provide some of this information to people in town," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday.

"It's another way of rekindling excitement about the city," added the mayor, who will officially announce the guide at a news conference today at the historic Orchard Street Church.

Simply titled "Baltimore's African-American Heritage Visitor's Guide," the brochure cost $30,000 to produce, with five sponsors BTC providing $25,000 and the city the rest.

The guide's cover features an original pattern based on a North African textile. Inside are listings of black-oriented events and exhibits including the Arena Players, one of the East Coast's oldest theater companies, the Great Blacks in Wax Museum and the Eubie Blake Gallery at the Brokerage.

Several historically important black churches are mentioned in the guide as are the homes and/or statues of such notable figures as Frederick Douglass, the former slave, journalist and statesman; jazz vocalist Billie Holiday, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Other entries highlight exhibits at multicultural institutions that might be of particular interest to African-Americans, such as the collection of African masks and sculpture at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Baltimore's initiative to draw more African-American visitors follows a similar statewide effort launched by Maryland tourism officials last February.

In addition, at least one private company in the city, Baltimore Rent-A-Tour, has for the last two years offered a four-hour, guided African-American Heritage Tour and a growing number of cities are beginning to market themselves to black tourists and conventioneers.

Industry observers and officials in other cities that have published guides say they can have an impact.

"I definitely think it helps. If cities have something they think is of interest, it's going to help bring certain groups there," said Solomon J. Herbert, editor of The Black Convention, a California-based trade publication. Baltimore has "not really had an aggressive marketing campaign" among black groups, Mr. Herbert said. "Maybe this is a first step," he adds.

Out of about 400 annual conventions here, Baltimore officials say, about 20 are meetings of African-American groups.

They estimate the city attracts 5.5 million visitors each year, but they have no estimates of how many of them are black.

In Philadelphia, the number of black conventions are up fourfold since the city began promoting its African-American heritage in 1987, officials say. After the initial 50,000-copy printing of its guide was gone, officials ordered 100,000 copies in a second printing. "That tells you right away it's a successful guide. People want it. People use it," said R. C. Staab, a spokesman for Philadelphia's convention center.

Part of the impetus for the creation of Baltimore's guide grew out of requests a couple of years ago from representatives of two large conventions of black groups that met here for one source of literature that would list attractions of particular interest to their members. An advisory committee was then assembled to decide what to put in the book.

"I think it will be a positive force," James E. Lewis, a member of the committee and founder of the art gallery at Morgan State University that bears his name, said of the guide. He said the gallery has a multimillion dollar collection of European and African art that in the past has "not got the attention it has deserved" from the public.

The sponsors of the guide are The Baltimore Orioles, Harborplace & The Gallery, The Walters Art Gallery, The Maryland Science Center and the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Their sponsorship is prominently displayed on the back cover but only one, The Walters Art Gallery, has a listing in the guide itself.

"We like to support cooperative ventures that bring enlarged audiences to Baltimore," said Raylene Decatur, senior director of programs and operations at the Science Center, explaining her organization's participation.

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