Attracting out-of-towners

Strategies: Baltimore wants to draw more visitors to the city and get them to stay longer.

November 07, 2003|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

The new leader of Baltimore's convention bureau plans to mix a little romance with culture and the proven appeal of the Inner Harbor to convince more people to come to Baltimore next year and to stay longer.

Leslie R. Doggett, president and chief executive of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, offered an array of strategies yesterday to try to achieve those goals as part of the association's 2004 sales and marketing plan.

They include opening a sales office in Washington, selling Baltimore as a "romantic city" this winter, expanding electronic marketing and targeting meeting planners who have historically visited Baltimore during the slow months with a direct-mail campaign.

"People when they come to Baltimore have no idea of all the city offers," Doggett said yesterday. "How can we begin to convert them to overnight customers? If we're going to be strategic and be able to compete, research is very important."

A key finding during recent marketing research was that two out of three visitors to Baltimore last year were day-trip travelers - a market ripe for converting into overnight guests, officials at the city's convention bureau said yesterday.

"The day-trip numbers to me were the most surprising," Doggett said. "It showed we really tapped a trend effectively but showed room for growth."

Day-trippers represented 7.18 million travelers, or 65 percent of Baltimore's total estimated 11.02 million visitors.

"There's the potential to convert that [to overnight stays], Doggett said. "It shows that we need to come up with a strategy to do that. That's a potential market for us."

Among the bureau's strategies for getting people to stay overnight in Baltimore are: capitalizing on the visitor's center set to open at the Inner Harbor early next year, expanding visibility and services available on the Internet and creating appealing hotel packages.

"The bottom line is we want to overcome visitor perceptions that you just do Baltimore in one day," said Lisa Hansen, senior director of marketing and tourism.

But there are limits to how many day visitors can be convinced to stay overnight, experts say.

"While you always want to convert day-trippers into overnight visitors, you face constraints that if they live too close, you're probably going to have a hard time getting them to stay," said Wes Roehl, professor and director of the research center in the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management at Temple University. "You're going to get people like that to stay over only by linking it to a particular activity like a show or a romantic getaway."

BACVA's new research shows that Baltimore's overnight leisure travelers are younger, on average, than they were in 1999. The average age last year was 37 compared with 43 in 1999.

Officials at the convention bureau speculate that the younger demographic may have to do with increased activities for young people, including the opening of new nightclubs.

Since 1999, BACVA has beefed up marketing efforts in Washington. But until recently, there has been no good way to measure the impact.

But a new study that includes visits by Washington-area travelers by examining day trips originating within 50 miles of Baltimore and at least 20 miles from the center of Baltimore, added another 3.8 million day trips last year. Combined with the 11.02 million estimated visitors, that would bring Baltimore's annual visitors to 14.82 million, and their total estimated spending to $3.058 billion.

The new Washington day-trip numbers need to be used cautiously since the typical definition of a tourist involves an overnight stay or travel generally from 50 miles away and beyond, Roehl warned.

"The danger here is that if you start to relax those criteria, it would be easy to get bigger and bigger numbers," he said. "At some point, if you start to fudge the definition of tourism, you're not really representing new money to the system. If they're coming from a suburb that's really part of the Greater Baltimore area anyway, you're really just shifting money."

Nevertheless, if BACVA is able to attract more people from outside Baltimore into the city, it is good for the city's economy, even if those people would have spent their money in Greater Baltimore anyway, Roehl said.

And he praised Baltimore for seeking out the local day-trip numbers which will serve as a useful baseline to monitor future growth.

"They know the traditional measures of tourism miss the fact that there are all kinds of people who don't meet the traditional definition of tourism but are making a contribution," Roehl said.

Who's visiting? Here's a snapshot of the typical leisure overnight visitor to Baltimore:

Age: 37

Household income: $68,000

Reason for trip:

Visit friends and relatives: 44 percent

Special events: 20 percent

Getaway weekend: 17 percent

Vacation:10 percent

Other personal: 9 percent.

Average stay: 3.3 days

Top activities:

Dining: 37 percent

Sightseeing: 35 percent

Entertainment: 32 percent

Shopping: 27 percent

Museum/art exhibits: 14 percent

Lodging:

Hotel/motel: 51 percent

Private home: 38 percent

Other: 11 percent

Source: BACVA

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