Missing the tourist market Puny state effort: Maryland's promotion budget tiny next to Virginia, Pennsylvania.

February 22, 1997

WHEN IT COMES to marketing Maryland as a tourist destination, this state misses the mark. Its effort is pathetic next to our north-south neighbors. While Virginia spends $16 million a year on tourism marketing (it could go to $24 million this spring) and Pennsylvania spends $14 million, Maryland creeps along with a marketing budget of just $6 million.

No wonder we don't reap most of the tourism benefits. There is vast, untapped potential in Maryland for tourist dollars, but in this business you have to spend money to make money. And that means a commitment from the governor to go all out to market Maryland.

A trade promotion group, the Maryland Tourism Council, urges a doubling of state advertising funds in 1998 to boost the Free State's visibility. Marketing studies indicate that for every $1 spent on advertising, the return is $7 in increased visitor spending. Just think what would happen if Gov. Parris N. Glendening decided to get serious about developing Maryland's tourism industry by matching Virginia's marketing campaign dollar for dollar.

Even with its puny advertising budget, Maryland drew 23.7 million visitors in the last fiscal year, who spent $6.6 billion. Those numbers are expected to grow to 27.6 million visitors spending $8.5 billion locally in two years.

But to expand those numbers requires more and better advertising. Maryland only markets in a 300-mile radius because of budgetary restraints. That's got to change.

The recent agreement between Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and state lawmakers for a permanent $6 million marketing budget for the Convention Center is a critical step forward. It should help draw more conventioneers to Baltimore, which is good news for hotels, restaurants, shops and attractions. To the west, the state's investment in Cumberland's Canal Place as a transportation "heritage tourism" center could also pay off in a few years.

Maryland is rich in recreation activities, historic sites and leisure-time pleasures. What's missing is a major-league promotional effort. We urge the governor and lawmakers to find extra money in this year's budget for that purpose and to commit themselves to a doubling of marketing funds next year. It would be money well spent, with a high rate of return.

Pub Date: 2/22/97

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