As world troubles grow, Md. resorts thrive

Healthy bookings at sites near home might suggest people looking for escape

March 28, 2003|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

When war erupted last week, executives at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Resort knew their business could plummet and wondered whether to delay opening their new restaurant.

The hoteliers thought they might lose 25, 30, maybe 40 room reservations last weekend.

Instead, the Eastern Shore resort scored its highest weekend count ever for leisure tourists with 380 of 400 rooms filled.

"We picked up 34 rooms after Wednesday," said Michael T. Walsh, general manager of the resort in Cambridge. "They didn't want to cancel. They wanted to go. [They were] probably tired of looking at CNN."

Given last weekend's crowds, the Blue Point Provision Co., a casual seafood restaurant at the resort, will open April 11.

"What we have found is our individual travelers are flocking in," Walsh said. "People are saying, `I just needed to get away.'"

Drive-to destinations have a special allure during troubled times.

"If 9/11 is any indication, we're going to see more people staying closer to home and spending less money on travel," said Mike Pina, a spokesman for the Travel Industry Association of America. "If you talk to people, their crisis marketing plan calls for a focus on the drive market. I have a feeling that the summer numbers are going to show that people are going to be taking more driving vacations."

And Maryland is well positioned for that, Pina said.

"I think a state like Maryland will do well," he said. "The state's location puts it in close proximity to a number of large population centers. There aren't a whole lot of states that have that, if you think about it."

Across the state, managers at Rocky Gap Lodge & Golf Resort in Cumberland report a recent upswing in business.

Bookings for families are up about 15 percent over the same time last year, said Tim Grambley, the general manager.

"We're marketing a little bit differently, so we're trying to decide if it's because of the marketing or the war," he said. "We've asked them why they're coming, and it seems that people would rather be in the mountains and a little bit closer to home."

In the past eight days, three social meetings scheduled at Rocky Gap were delayed because the people attending did not want to travel - even from Baltimore and Washington, given the war and heightened security concerns, he said. But each rebooked for May or June, Grambley said.

Rocky Gap has lost $18.9 million since 1991 and is expected to take three years to stabilize, according to a recent report by the state's Department of Legislative Services.

Lake Pointe Inn on Deep Creek Lake in Garrett County reports this is its best March since opening in 1996.

Through last year, the highest number of room bookings during March was 68 at the 10-room bed and breakfast, said innkeeper Caroline McNiece. This month, there have been 83 room bookings.

"It's hard to judge why this is, because people aren't saying," she said. "But I think they come here to get away from everything."

Nearby, the Haley Farm Bed and Breakfast and Retreat Center near Deep Creek Lake, has seen a similar increase.

They've also been asked an unusual question or two by prospective guests: "Do they have an evacuation plan in case Washington gets attacked?"

Although there is no specific evacuation plan for the bed and breakfast, about a three-hour drive from the Washington/Baltimore area, it has its own water supply and a generator that would kick in if needed, owner Kam Gillespie said yesterday.

"We're usually not that filled up in March, but all our suites are getting booked up," said Gillespie, whose inn has seven suites and three other rooms. "I wasn't sure if it was my marketing improving or from the war. I hope what we provide is a respite and a comfort for our guests."

At the other end of the state, Ocean City always has billed itself as a drive-to destination.

"We're only advertising in the markets where people can reach us easily by car," said Donna Abbott, a spokeswoman for the Ocean City tourism department. "We're very optimistic for the summer. This has been a long, cold winter. I think people are thinking: beach."

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