Maryland tourism plan identifies major needs

Additional funding, and understanding urged in report

January 19, 2001|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

A strategic plan that maps out the next five years for Maryland's tourism industry warns that inadequate funding hampers the state's ability to compete and that limited understanding of the value of tourism prevents the sector from receiving more support from elected officials, the business community and the public.

"Poor communications hinder coordination and cooperation at all levels of the industry, up and down the chain of command," says the 41-page report created by the consulting team of Economics Research Associates, a national research group, and Means and Partners, based in Montgomery County.

The plan calls for a multiyear appropriation for the tourism budget, much like the one recently introduced in the House of Delegates, to enable Maryland to remain competitive.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., an Allegany County Democrat, has introduced legislation that calls for budget increases starting in fiscal 2003 that would boost spending to about $25 million by 2007.

The report also recommends that tourism's role within the Department of Business and Economic Development be increased and that the industry participate in more committees and task force groups to heighten visibility

"Maryland tourism is at the brink of moving to a higher level of success, achieving even greater levels of visitation and visitor expenditures," the report says. "However, success is not guaranteed."

The plan, which has been in the works for more than a year, was approved by the Maryland Tourism Development Board and becomes a guide for the state's immediate future.

"It's a living, breathing document that will be reviewed annually," said Hannah L. Byron, director of the Maryland Office of Tourism. "We will be benchmarking ourselves against the strategic plan and the marketing plan. It will be a way to stay focused."

Some of the issues raised in the plan have been corrected, officials say.

"I think there's better collaboration between our state partners," Byron said, noting as examples new alliances with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.

Road trips on agenda

Byron plans to make road trips a regular part of her schedule to spread the tourism message.

"One of the things that we've known is that local governments don't support tourism on the local level as they should," she said. "Maybe there is some education and communication that needs to take place. We see it as one of our roles to go out in the counties and talk to them from the state perspective."

Mary Jo McCulloch, president of the Maryland Hotel and Motel Association and the Maryland Tourism Council, said she likes the idea of better communication between state and local government.

"If they do that, hopefully that brings home the message, and tourism will see increased budgets for tourism locally as well as at the state level," she said. "The state can't do it alone."

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