Maryland is predicting a record year for tourism

Official expects visitors to spend $9 billion

May 11, 2004|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

A great winter at Western Maryland resorts, the debut of Baltimore's new visitor center and the expectation of a big summer in Ocean City are converging in what could turn out to be a record year for tourism in the state.

"I'm being bold," Dennis M. Castleman, assistant secretary of tourism, film and the arts in the Department of Business and Economic Development, said yesterday. "I believe we'll hit $9 billion for tourism expenditures."

Visitors spent $8.8 billion in Maryland in 2002, the most recent year for which financial data is available.

Castleman also expects a substantial increase in the number of visitors.

"We went up almost 1 million visitors between 2002 and 2003," he said. "I don't see anything that's going to stop that trend. I don't know if we'll sustain another million, but we'll sustain a healthy increase of between a half million and three-quarters of a million in 2004."

For the first time in several years, Maryland saw more than 20 million visitors in 2003, according to the latest numbers released by the Travel Industry Association of America.

Of those visitors, 83 percent came to the state for leisure purposes. Nearly half of those leisure travelers came to visit family and friends.

About half the visitors were residents of Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York and New Jersey - the nearby states considered Maryland's primary visitor market.

Employment within the tourism industry also showed growth. In 2002, 109,600 Marylanders were employed in tourism - 4,000 more than in 2001.

The trends in Maryland echo those across the nation as consumer confidence and spending grow and travel continues to rebound since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The national travel association projects that overall traveler spending by domestic and international visitors will rise nearly 6 percent in 2004 to $585 billion, up from $552 billion in 2003.

Travel spending is expected to continue to grow next year, increasing nearly 5 percent to $613 billion. That would surpass the record set in 2000.

In a category increasing for the first time since 1999, U.S. residents are projected to take nearly 145 million individual business trips in 2004, up 4.6 percent from 2003, according to the Travel Industry Association. That number is expected to rise 3.5 percent next year.

In the first three months of this year alone, the U.S. lodging industry's occupancy rate rose 4.4 percent.

Recent data from the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association back up the experience of local hotels, as business travel returns to previous levels of demand.

The association's latest report shows a nearly 50 percent increase in hotel room use for conventions and meetings from January through March, compared with the corresponding period last year.

More than 80,000 visitors came to the city, a 35 percent increase. And the money they spent while in town - slightly less than $80 million - rose by nearly a quarter, according to the association.

"We don't see anything out there that's going to keep Maryland from having a great year," Castleman said.

Tourism facts

20 million people visited Maryland in 2003.

83 percent of the visitors were leisure travelers.

The average household trip expenditure was $310.

Travelers stayed an average of 2.4 nights.

23 percent of all overnight trips included children.

Visitors in 2002 spent $8.8 billion in Maryland.

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