Luxury resort, events aid tourism prospects

Visitors: The Hyatt hotel and spa in Cambridge is a "new dimension" in the state's effort to attract travelers.

January 20, 2002|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

A new luxury resort, splashy tourist events and an array of new tour products are a few of the assets state tourism officials hope will spell prosperity this year.

"The number of high-caliber events and new products and an incredible spring advertising campaign will work to increase our visitors," predicted Hannah L. Byron, the state's director of tourism.

"Even with the current economic climate, we fully expect for tourism to rebound. We may not see the kinds of growth that we had hoped for, but I think we're still going to have a good year."

Considered one of the shining stars in the effort is the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Resort, set to make its debut in June. On the edge of the Choptank River in Cambridge, it will have 400 rooms, a marina, spa and conference facility.

"I view that as the most significant new product for 2002," Byron said. "This is just something that we've never had in our inventory before. I think it's a new dimension. The spa is really a selling point to meeting planners."

Also this year, the state will see the return of the Volvo Round-the-World Ocean Race to Baltimore's Inner Harbor and Annapolis. The international event - formerly known as the Whitbread Round the World Race - last circled the globe and stopped in the area four years ago.

September marks the 140th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam - considered the bloodiest battle in United States history. The anniversary is expected to draw 20,000 Civil War re-enactors and 100,000 spectators.

The state's spring advertising campaign will capitalize on the Chesapeake Bay and feature its lighthouses.

"The Chesapeake Bay is one of our assets, and I don't know if we've ever fully marketed all that we have," Byron said.

This year's annual report shows that more than 18 million visitors to Maryland spent about $7.7 billion in 1999, according to the most current numbers available from the Maryland Office of Tourism Development.

The overall number of visitors to Maryland increased by 1.2 percent between 1998 and 1999. But that increase was not consistent across the state, according to statistics supplied by the Travel Industry Association of America.

The capital region and Eastern Shore saw increases, along with a smaller increase in western Maryland. The central and southern regions experienced a decrease.

Leisure travelers were up almost 6 percent, while business travel dropped 4 percent.

Overall, travelers did not stay as long or spend as much money in 2000 as did visitors the previous year, according to statistics supplied by TIA. (Statistics for length of stay and spending in 2001 were not available.)

Average household spending per trip in Maryland in 2000 was $301, compared with $319 in 1999, a decrease of 5.6 percent, according to TIA. Visitors stayed an average of 2.5 days in 2000, compared with 2.7 days in 1999.

Byron said she thinks that a decrease in business travel may be responsible for the shorter stays and reduced spending.

Visitors to Maryland in 2000 spent $120 a day per household - nearly $23 less than the national average, according to the travel association. That difference in spending from the national average translates to about $540 million.

The 2.5-day length of stay in 2000 also lags the national average of 3.5 days.

For 2001, Byron hopes to see tourism bring $8 billion in economic impact and household trip expenditures at $319.

Across the state, Allegany County posted a 4 percent decrease in total hotel/motel tax receipts in fiscal year 2001, compared with the previous fiscal year. But the recently opened $1.2 million hands-on exhibit at the Cumberland C&O Railroad Visitors Center in Canal Place has drawn crowds, and other new projects also are expected to boost tourism.

A new multipurpose building, with 25,000 square feet of space, is open at the Allegany County Fairgrounds. At the Rocky Gap Lodge & Golf Resort, an 8,000-seat amphitheater is under construction.

Looking ahead, construction of the Allegheny Highlands Trail begins this year. By 2003, that Allegany passage will link Pittsburgh and Washington via a hiking and biking trail more than 150 miles long.

Accommodations taxes collected in Garrett County increased by 9.9 percent in fiscal 2001. Admissions and amusement taxes collected increased by 11.2 percent, largely due to taxes on lift tickets during an extended snow season last year.

Agritourism, which allows tourists to participate in working farms, had a successful first year and will grow, according to Kenneth Wishnick, Garrett County Chamber of Commerce president. A travel-by-boat promotion that mapped out restaurants and destinations accessible by boat helped boost business by 20 percent or more, he said.

This year, for the first time, the area will market ice fishing on Deep Creek Lake. It also will be the first season for a new snow tubing run and an additional expert-level ski trail at Wisp Ski & Golf Resort.

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