Touring Maryland

December 03, 1993

In the competition for tourist dollars, Maryland is not keeping pace with its neighbors. Both Virginia and Pennsylvania spend three times what Maryland invests in tourism advertising. Meanwhile, Maryland merchants are losing out on a highly lucrative market.

This state needs a concerted, sustained effort to promote Maryland as a tourism destination. One idea that could be implemented relatively quickly would be a program to offer discounted tour packages to the growing number of overseas visitors entering this country at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. The state should also be ready to take full advantage of the 30,000 daily visitors who are expected to pour into the new Walt Disney historical theme park planned for Northern Virginia. With some effort, Maryland could reap a significant spillover business.

The potential for growth in tourism is immense. Western Maryland is the fastest growing state destination, thanks to the completion of Interstate 68 (the National Highway) and a coordinated regional advertising campaign. (Once the championship golf course and conference center are completed at Rocky Gap, the numbers will grow even faster.) State officials should be using that kind of cooperative advertising approach for the rest of Maryland, too.

Tourists already spend $5 billion in Maryland, much of it directed at Baltimore's Inner Harbor and Ocean City's Atlantic beaches. But there's plenty more to promote aggressively -- Civil War battlefields, the Preakness Stakes festivities, future attractions planned for the harbor area, the beauty and easy charm of the Eastern Shore, Deep Creek Lake in summer or winter.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer has set up a tourism board to formulate a long-range plan for boosting the number of Maryland visitors. The governor and lawmakers should agree on a short-term step, too -- a significant increase in advertising dollars to spread the word about Maryland's appeal. As economic development secretary Mark Wasserman said, "If we want to play in the big leagues, particularly with the competition to our north and south, it's time to make some decisions."

Maryland indeed may be "America in Miniature," but unless more people know about its virtues, the state will continue to miss out on tourist dollars.

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