Ron Krieger was savoring the harbor view from his downtown Baltimore hotel yesterday morning when a tall-masted ship glided into the picture.
The sight of the Brazilian Cisne Branco, white and graceful like its namesake (white swan), captivated the tourist from Florida.
The tall ship and six others from as far as Romania are sailing into the Inner Harbor and Fells Point this week, where they are expected to provide an inviting centerpiece to mark the start of what tourism officials hope will be a banner summer for visitors.
FOR THE RECORD - Because of an editing error, the gender of a source in a story that appeared Wednesday in the Business section was misidentified. Meade Atkeson, general manager of the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel, should have been referred to on second reference as "he."
With the ships offering free tours through the July Fourth holiday and a sleek new visitors center and an expanded science museum beckoning from the banks of the harbor, downtown Baltimore is poised to benefit from a national rebound in tourism this summer, officials said.
About 300,000 to 500,000 visitors are expected in town for the July Fourth festivities, to tour the tall ships, watch fireworks bathe the Inner Harbor in a kaleidoscope of colors and be entertained by street performers and concerts, according to Sail Baltimore, the nonprofit group that hosts the tall ships.
The Travel Industry Association of America is projecting that overall travel spending by domestic and international visitors will rise nearly 6 percent this year to $585 billion, up from $552 billion in 2003.
Baltimore should benefit from that increased spending, said Anirban Basu, chairman and chief executive of Sage Policy Group Inc., a Baltimore economic and policy consulting firm. He said the summer is expected to be the best tourism season since the summer of 2000.
If the city's weekend projections hold up, visitors could generate spending of $30 million to $50 million, which would be in line with the reported spending by visitors during the last tour of tall ships in 2000, Basu said.
Sail Baltimore says about 1.5 million people visited the Inner Harbor to see 12 tall ships in 2000, one of the city's millennium events, spending more than $100 million.
"If anything, the economy is even more robust now," Basu said. "Expect that the average consumer coming today will be spending more in Baltimore than they did in 2000, even adjusting for inflation."
Krieger, the Florida visitor, and Barbara Wiktor, an office manager for a car dealership from Allentown, Pa., chose Baltimore for a two-day vacation over Atlantic City in part because of what they'd heard about the new and improved attractions around the Inner Harbor since visiting years ago.
"Friends had said you'll be amazed when you go back," Wiktor said. "It's expanded, and there's a lot more to offer. I wanted to go someplace where they had water and boats."
Since the Baltimore Visitor Center opened May 7, some 93,328 people have stopped in - more than projected for that period - seeking activities, tours and restaurants, booking hotel rooms and screening a 10-minute film about the city, said Michael Pietryka, director of visitor services for the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association.
"We're expecting a good summer," he said. "The goal is to get these people to come back again and again."
The Renaissance Harborplace hotel will be sold out for the Fourth of July holiday, said Meade Atkeson, general manager. She said the hotel's occupancy for the entire summer is not expected to be larger than last year but she expects to earn more because average daily rates are up and because guests are looking for upgrades and will pay for them.
"Guests are willing to pay for additional amenities," Atkeson said. "More people are willing to pay extra for a harbor view or a club room, so rates are up."
Seven tall ships, including Maryland's goodwill ambassador and tall ship Pride of Baltimore II, are docking at the harbor or in Fells Point for the "Sailabration," the first gathering of tall ships since 2000. The event marks the fifth sailing of tall ships in the city's history since 1976, when seven tall ships that had sailed into New York Harbor for the nation's bicentennial headed to Baltimore in mid-July.
"That was the beginning of the big development of the Inner Harbor, and it brought people down for the first time to see what the prospect would be for a gathering place on the harbor," said Laura Stevenson, executive director of Sail Baltimore.
Ships also sailed into the harbor in 1986 and 1992 and 2000.
This year's event marks the first time tall ships will be in town for July 4th.
"They're so unique," Stevenson said. "It's such a piece of history you don't see anywhere else. There are so few in the world."
Yesterday, the Cisne Branco, a Brazilian Navy training ship with a main mast as tall as a 15-floor building, and the Sagres, a Portuguese Navy training ship, were the first to arrive, docking at the Inner Harbor. Four more ships, the Nova Scotian Bluenose II, the Uruguayan Capitan Miranda, the Mexican Cuauhtemoc, and the Romanian Mircea, will arrive today.