Mickey who?

May 03, 1994

It's a sign of how far Baltimore and Washington have to go before they truly are a common market in mind-set:

In Northern Virginia, all the talk these days is about the Walt Disney Co.'s plans to build a U.S. history theme park outside Manassas. The billion-dollar project dominated the recent session of Virginia's legislature. Old Dominion's business community is agog over the thousands of jobs the venture will bring. And the topic has drawn in such marquee names as Jacqueline Onassis, Willard Scott and Russell Baker, who belong to an environmental group that is fighting the development sited near lush horse country.

In Maryland, on the other hand, the impending Disney's America plan is the mouse that snored.

No one, it seems, is talking about an attraction that could have sizable impact on this state's already $5 billion-a-year hospitality industry. The head of the Hotel-Motel Association of Greater Baltimore says his colleagues haven't said a word about it. The project hardly caused a murmur in Annapolis even though a lot of time was spent in the state capital last winter debating the need to grow Maryland's meager tourist promotion budget.

The fact is this project could be a gain/no pain windfall for Maryland. If it comes to fruition, Disney's America would be far enough away that it wouldn't stress this state's infrastructure. Neither will Maryland have to ride herd on the commercial sprawl that will cling to Disney in Prince William County, Va. But the Disney name is so attractive it will lure U.S. and international travelers, who in turn can be enticed to use Baltimore-Washington International Airport and to make side trips to Maryland attractions. For a comparison, see the sizable chunk of tourist trade around Cocoa Beach and its U.S. space center that spills over from visitors to Disney World an hour away.

The thought of Disney's benefiting Maryland hasn't, at least, been lost on state tourism officials, who actually have been working with their counterparts in Virginia for a while. The two states opened a joint tourist welcome center last year, and both states and D.C. already team up to lure travelers from abroad. With Euram, a cut-rate international charter beginning BWI service to Europe in June, and with Disney on the horizon, the potential for increased European tourism looks bright. As for domestic tourism, our wall map shows that Maryland lies between the Northeast and Virginia, making it obvious that Maryland will have the opportunity to entice travelers to stop or stay here.

The hospitality industry should not take lightly this mouse next door. Based on what occurs across the Potomac, it should plan for Mickey's arrival.

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