Ads said to bring scores here

Survey, hotels report rise in bookings tied to marketing drive

Tourism

September 20, 2000|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

City tourism officials said yesterday that they are pleased - but not surprised - by a new study that shows that their ad campaigns to bring leisure travelers to Baltimore are paying off.

And local hotels back up the findings, reporting marked increases in leisure bookings during the past fiscal year.

The survey, commissioned by the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association and conducted by Widener-Burrows & Associated Inc. of Crofton, found that the association's advertising campaigns generated more than 335,000 inquiries from people interested in visiting Baltimore.

About 64 percent of those inquiries converted into visits, and 69 percent of those into an overnight stay, according to the study by the market research company.

Although some of the visitors who decided to spend the night in Baltimore stayed with friends or relatives, 83 percent booked a room. The average length of stay was two nights, and the average number of rooms booked was 1.5. So, for hotels, that meant more than 350,000 room nights, according to the study.

"I'm pleased but not surprised," said Carroll R. Armstrong, president and chief executive officer of the Convention and Visitors Association. "It's a major step forward for us to be able to quantify, even conservatively, the leisure side. Many cities struggle with that."

The survey numbers reflect only those people who came to Baltimore after contacting the association through one of its ads and don't represent the total number of leisure travelers who come to the city. In all, Baltimore receives an estimated 13 million visitors a year.

Armstrong said the association will be able to track its marketing even more closely in the future and know which of its campaigns are most successful in attracting visitors.

Visitors said they spent $108.1 million during their stays, according to the Widener-Burrows research.

"We have almost a 100-to-1 return on investment," said Dan M. Lincoln, vice president of tourism and communications for the association. "For approximately $1 million in marketing, those people spend $108 million. There are very few industries that can generate that kind of return on investment."

Steve Loucks, a spokesman for the Carlson Wagonlit Travel Associate Division in Minneapolis, which has 1,200 retail travel agencies across the country, agreed that the return on investment is "tremendous."

"If they're able to show that it's their campaign that's driving the traffic through the doors of the hotels and into Baltimore, then it's done its job," he said.

But, depending on how the research was done, other factors may have contributed to someone's decision to visit, said Loucks, who previously worked with the American Society of Travel Agents.

For instance, a family might have been planning a trip to Baltimore anyway, and called for information after seeing an ad. Or visitors might have been coming to Washington and decided to add an extra day after seeing some of the Baltimore ads, he said.

William T. Walsh, recently named general manager of the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel, which is scheduled to open in February, said he has seen some of the benefits of the marketing firsthand in leisure sales at the Baltimore Marriott Inner Harbor Hotel, where he became general manager in January 1999.

This year, the Marriott Inner Harbor has seen an increase of about 8,000 room-nights over the corresponding period last year. Between 42 percent and 45 percent of those room-nights have been in the weekend leisure guest category, Walsh said.

In the first quarter - which coincided with the Convention and Visitors Association's winter campaign - the hotel was up 1,200 room-nights, or 34 percent, for weekend nights, during what are traditionally slow months.

"I think that advertising brought to light that Baltimore is more than just a spring or summer city," Walsh said. "I absolutely believe that it translated into money and occupancy. When you're up 34 percent in leisure travel in the first quarter, that had to come from somewhere."

The Omni Inner Harbor also reported an increase in leisure travel this year.

That category is up 16 percent over the comparable period last year, said Robert D. Arnold, director of sales and marketing for the hotel.

The hotel has been able to expand its leisure market in part by attracting people beyond the traditional Friday and Saturday nights, stretching into Wednesday and Thursday nights, Arnold said.

"We've been able to encourage customers to stay longer," he said.

Although the hotel has done aggressive marketing of its own, at least part of the increase can be credited to the association's campaigns, Arnold said.

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