Partying for tourism

Gala: The terrorist attacks have hurt tourism, so Howard Tourism Council hopes this year's Victorian-themed fund-raiser will boost its budget to help promote tourism in the county.

November 13, 2001|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

For more than a decade, Howard County Tourism Council has held its annual fund-raiser with the anticipation that its only benefit would be to give its budget a boost.

But this year's gala holds more significance. Since Sept. 11, the county has experienced a decrease in tourism of about 10 percent to 15 percent. The Tourism Council hopes its budget - kept steady with grants from the county and state - will get a significant increase from this week's fund-raiser to help promote Howard tourism.

"Major hotels, major restaurants, especially in the convention centers area, they've lost a lot, a lot of business," said Bill King, president of the council's board of directors. "We're doing everything we can this year, more so than any other, because people don't really know what tourism is."

The themed event, "A Victorian Holiday," which the council also dubs the "annual event of the season," will be held at Historic Savage Mill on Thursday.

Those who purchase tickets can bid on items such as artwork, jewelry, airline tickets and vacation packages during a silent auction. Seventeen local restaurants will offer cuisine for sampling.

The council's budget is built on grants - $237,000 from the county and $49,000 from the state annually - and usually draws about $12,000 to $15,000 from the fund-raiser. King hopes the event will bring in at least $30,000 this year.

"We're trying to grow like everyone else is trying to grow, but it's tough," he said. "I think more and more people are staying closer to home ... so hopefully they'll spend their dollars at home if they're not going away."

New this year to the auction is a "celebration package," which includes the essentials to throw a party, including the room, caterer, photographer, flowers and makeup for the hostess.

"I think it would be great for someone who's planning a wedding to come to this," said Regina Ford, the fund-raiser committee's chairwoman.

Ford came up with the Victorian theme 12 years ago because she has always been fascinated by that era and thought it would present the perfect party theme. Only one year did the council depart from the theme, choosing a "Great Gatsby" type of mood instead.

"The food and grandeur - the whole era, it's colorful and you have a lot to draw from," Ford said.

The event's dress is listed as "business or Victorian casual," but council members usually are the only ones to dress in Victorian garb. Everyone else usually shows up in business attire.

Business people and public officials typically attend the event, but the council wants to attract the public, which has less knowledge of the county's tourism industry.

"That's who we want to know about this," King said. "Until they actually start looking or digging, they don't even know the history in their back yard."

Proceeds from the fund-raiser will be used to open a hospitality room in the county's Visitor Information Center. The "postage stamp-sized" office on Ellicott City's Main Street is a bit too compact, said Karen Knight, the council's assistant director.

"There's no room for anybody to sit down," Knight said.

The hospitality room, which the council hopes to open in January with new carpeting and furniture, will offer tourism brochures. Last year's money from the fund-raiser paid for new computers at the center.

However, Knight said the center does offer an especially significant amenity - historic Ellicott City's only public restrooms.

"We do serve an important function down here," she said.

The fund-raiser will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Thursday at the Great Room at Historic Savage Mill. Tickets are $40 in advance, $45 at the door. Information: 410-313-1900.

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