Md. woos caviar crowd Tourism campaign: The state springs for a high-profile effort featuring slick magazine ads and direct-response TV spots.

February 04, 1996|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,SUN STAFF

The 60-second journey through Maryland cuts right to the chase -- through the rolling green valleys of the hunt country north of Baltimore. A fox sprints toward a sparkling white fence. Hounds in hot pursuit yelp. Horses, riders hunched in their saddles, bring up the rear.

Startling baseball fans, pedestrians and sunbathers alike, the fox chase tears through some of the state's premier attractions: Harborplace, Oriole Park, Annapolis, Fells Point, Ocean City, the Eastern Shore.

Cameras capture it all as Maryland -- for the first time ever -- is doing what nearby states have done for decades: turning to the tube to lure tourists and their dollars.

Maryland's direct-response TV spots -- they invite viewers to "Call 1-800 MD IS FUN" to get a free travel kit -- now exist only as ad copy and story boards with artists' sketches. But when the trees green and the daffodils bloom, camera crews will shoot the real thing, to debut in April in major TV markets in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio.

At the same time, Maryland's most ambitious and most expensive tourism campaign to date put slick, colorful ads in 18 upscale publications with Among them: the New York Times' Sophisticated Traveler, Better Homes & Gardens, Bon Appetit, Ebony, Parade, Southern Living and USA Weekend.

In Maryland, a state that until now has relied mainly on much cheaper newspaper advertising to attract tourists, such a campaign has been a long time coming.

For decades, the state's tourism leaders, lacking money even to consider costly TV and magazine ads, have watched their competitors' productions with more than a little bit of envy.

Virginia bombards potential tourists in neighboring states with images of beaches and mountains. Pennsylvania weighs in with ads touting its cradle of American democracy and the picturesque countryside. New York takes to the airwaves to lure viewers to the Big Apple and upstate resorts. You could forgive Maryland's tourism officials for wincing over the prospect of hearing the famous refrains yet again: "I * New York," "Virginia Is For Lovers"

Now, as a result of a long-sought, hefty increase in promotion spending, Maryland at last gets its turn to be a contender.

Despite an extremely tight state budget, overall funding for the Office of Tourism Development increased during the budget year that began July 1 to $8.6 million, from $5.2 million, raising spending for everything from brochures and responses to tourist inquiries to research and marketing.

But by far, the biggest, most visible -- and, state leaders say, most important -- increase goes toward advertising.

The high-profile campaign reflects Gov. Parris N. Glendening's pledge to make tourism one of his top economic-development strategies and to keep Maryland from continuing to lose ground to neighboring competitors that have long spent millions more.

"In essence, this is the fruition of what we've been talking about for at least four years," said R. Dean Kenderdine, assistant secretary of the division of tourism and promotion for the state's Department of Business and Economic Development.

"We have been in front of the legislature, in front of governors, in front of local tourism professionals, the public sector and the private sector talking about the need to advertise the state of Maryland effectively against the competition. Now, we're finally at a point where we're actually going to see the product of all that."

The additional advertising money -- from $780,164 last fiscal year to nearly $2.9 million -- will help narrow the gap between Maryland and competitors' spending, but still falls short of competitors' outlays, including Virginia ($4.5 million) and Pennsylvania ($3.4 million).

Nonetheless, Maryland's increased spending comes as particularly welcome news to hoteliers, restaurateurs, retailers and leaders of tourist attractions statewide. They have long been frustrated by Maryland's comparatively meager advertising budgets. Indeed, many blame the lack of adequate funding for a loss of market share and the state's consistently lagging behind national averages for lengths of stay and visitor spending.

The new advertising also forms the linchpin of a strategic plan with some lofty targets. By 2000, the state says, Maryland should increase out-of-state visitors from 19 million to 30 million; annual tourists' spending from about $5 billion to $10 billion; tourism-related jobs from 100,000 to 150,000; tourism tax revenues from $350 million to $750 million.

The campaign begins with this spring's intensive $1.2 million blitz, with three months of glossy magazine ads and 32 TV spots a week for seven weeks in each of five different markets. It is to be followed this year by another $6 million worth of advertising, building upon the spring campaign, for at least two years, if the General Assembly agrees.

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