Most visitors praise city

Survey results called `encouraging'

some fault parking, safety


April 15, 1999|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

The first comprehensive study to evaluate Baltimore's convention business and leisure travel reports that the majority of people surveyed had a good experience in the city, would come back and would recommend that others visit.

However, parking, panhandlers, safety and convention food were among the criticisms that visitors shared in the $68,000 survey conducted by Deloitte & Touche LLP, which was financed by the Maryland Stadium Authority and the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development.

"What I thought it said was we're a pretty darn good convention destination," said Bruce H. Hoffman, executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority. "I was worried, but we did pretty well. But in a million areas, we're average, and I don't think we're satisfied with this."

The survey of meeting planners, convention delegates and leisure travelers examined 268 categories, of which Baltimore received an aggregate score of average or above in all but 12 categories. Random surveys were taken of people attending the more than 400 conventions between January 1997 and June 1998. It also included random sampling of people from a list of 20,000 leisure travelers who visited the city recently.

"It's very encouraging," said Carroll R. Armstrong, president and CEO of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. "We're moving in the right direction. But we need to do better. This will help us focus on that."

A meeting of Baltimore's industry groups is planned for next week, so that each group can address problems that relate to them as shown by the study. Hoffman said concerns about convention center food already have been addressed.

"Any area we see in here that we didn't like, we're going to get right on," Hoffman said.

The idea for the study evolved from an evaluation of the summer 1997 convention of Meeting Professionals International that turned up troubling anecdotal reports. They included concerns related to taxis and transportation, restaurants, hotels, the convention center and the overall sense of security, George Williams, the state director of tourism has said.

In part, officials hope that pinpointing problem areas may enable them to secure training funds to help improve services.

Survey questions were in eight segments: transportation, lodging, restaurants, entertainment attractions, retail, public facilities, convention facilities and services, and general impressions of the city. Results were presented within the study's 226 pages.

The city fared well when compared with other major convention destinations, including Washington, Philadelphia and Chicago, in such categories as satisfaction with convention facilities and staff.

"They liked our building, and they liked the people in it," Hoffman said.

But leisure travelers and convention-goers alike criticized the availability and cost of parking. In addition, convention-goers reported concern about safety.

Meeting planners noted difficulty finding adequate lodging -- a problem unlikely to change until some of the nine downtown hotel projects become reality.

"We still have work to do," Armstrong said. "We still have a lot of work to do. We need to keep our eye on the prize -- to elevate Baltimore in the convention market."

Pub Date: 4/15/99

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