The number of tourists visiting Baltimore declined last year, but the ones who came stayed longer and were looser with their cash.
According to a survey commissioned by the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, the number of people making day trips to the city declined 10 percent to 7.8 million, while the number of overnight visitors rose 11 percent to 5.2 million.
Leisure travelers who stayed in Baltimore at least one night spent a total of $1.2 billion, up from $933 million in 1997. Overnight business travelers also spent $1.2 billion, up from $913 million in the prior year.
Total spending was $2.95 billion -- up 10 percent from 1997.
"I think the numbers are great overall," said Carroll R. Armstrong, president and chief executive officer of the association since 1996. "Competition has increased tremendously from 1996 and to maintain a market share in a competitive environment and increase overnights on business and leisure says a whole lot."
D. K. Shifflet & Associates Ltd. of McLean, Va., conducted the study by having 750,000 people nationwide keep track of their travel and spending habits, then sending 45,000 members of the group a detailed questionnaire every month.
John Ott, executive director of the B&O Railroad Museum and past chairman of the Baltimore City Chamber of Commerce, said he saw healthy attendance in 1998.
"Last year's attendance was the highest ever at 113,000, and this year we're running just a little behind that; not a lot, but enough to make us wonder what's going on," he said. "Given Port Discovery and the Power Plant, you'd think we'd have a lot more people. It indicates maybe our marketing is still not getting where it needs to be. The state needs to invest many more dollars here." The state two years ago began to phase out funding for the tourism association when it began receiving 3 percent of the city's 7.5 percent hotel-occupancy tax.
Armstrong said that with rival cities such as Washington, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Boston building new hotels, sports stadiums and convention centers, the state should once again help fund Baltimore's tourism marketing effort. The association has a budget of $6.9 million for fiscal year 2000, which just began, and Armstrong said he is not sure how much more he will ask for when he approaches the General Assembly next session.
According to the survey, each overnight leisure visitor stayed an average of 3.5 days, while business travelers stayed an average of 3.6 days. The average stay in Maryland, Shifflet said, is 2.4 days.
The top feeder markets that supplied tourists were New York at 23 percent, Philadelphia at 8 percent, Washington with 7 percent and Boston with 5 percent.
Armstrong said the association needs to do a better job explaining to locals that the money generated from tourists goes into the general funds of the city and state.
"It comes back into the community in ways of supporting city services," he said. "That means police on the streets, fire stations being open and potholes filled."