Delayed Tourism Assist

April 26, 1994

A potentially lucrative revenue source for Maryland remains largely untapped: tourism. State officials do precious little to promote this area's prime attractions. For instance, the state of Maryland didn't even bother to advertise local tourism on radio and television last year. No wonder we're so far behind neighboring states. Virginia has a $10 million tourism budget; Pennsylvania's is $12 million. And Maryland? A paltry $5 million.

There are big bucks to be made through enhanced tourism. The state's Office of Tourism development estimates the average Maryland visitor last year spent $375. Think what would happen if the number of vacationers and conventioneers jumped by 1 million. It would be a bonanza for local businesses and for the state's treasury.

That's the logic behind a measure pushed through the General Assembly by the Schaefer administration. Starting in mid-1995, an extra $9 million must be spent on advertising tourist attractions over a three-year period. The bill also requires the next governor to keep the Office of Tourism Development's operating budget at $5.5 million or higher during that time.

This is well-intended legislation but deeply flawed. We disagree with any mandate that ties the hands of a future governor by forcing expenditures of $25.5 million. Shouldn't that be the next governor's decision? Where is this extra money to come from? Gov. William Donald Schaefer and legislators have not said. The governor should have put the extra tourism advertising money in his own budget request this year. Instead, he loaded that burden on the back of his successor.

Sadly, this bill fails to address the immediate problem. Maryland needs more tourism ads now. It cannot afford to wait 14 months until the first of three $3 million allocations kicks in. So Maryland will continue to muddle along, without the resources to promote Baltimore City's attractions, Ocean City or the Chesapeake Bay effectively.

It will be up to state economic development officials to tap private-sector dollars in the interim. That's the only feasible way to stimulate this region's tourist draws right away. The state's own studies indicate that tourism advertising pays off handsomely, bringing an $8 return on investment for every dollar spent on promotional efforts. It's a shame the governor and legislators failed to seize the immediate opportunity.

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