New tourism chief

May 12, 2006

With Baltimore's tourism bureau set to launch a new campaign to sell Charm City, the board of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association shouldn't waste any time replacing Leslie R. Doggett as the agency's executive director.

A national search sounds fine, but not if it drags on. The city needs a public booster with a prominent profile who knows the product - Baltimore - and can promote it as a tourist and convention locale. And BACVA needs a strong, focused leader to ensure Baltimore is getting the best bang for its limited promotional dollars.

Ms. Doggett resigned this week for "health and family reasons." She was hired in 2003 to revamp an agency mired in scandal. Although it took Ms. Doggett longer than expected to find a gung-ho sales director, she eventually hired Ronnie L. Burt, who, by several accounts, has proved he can successfully sell Baltimore. Sales production figures for the latter half of 2005 showed a 92 percent increase over the same period in 2004, continuing an upward trend.

The city can't afford to lose that momentum. It was too tough to get to this point, and in this competitive market, if the city's not ahead, it's behind.

The fact that BACVA board Chairman Ed Hale tapped Mr. Burt to be interim director should keep the focus on sales. That's critical to filling the underutilized convention center, driving business at the new convention center hotel and helping lure guests to other hotels in town.

But the priority now is selling Baltimore - in a new, exciting and enduring way. Consultants have told BACVA that people who have been here like what they see, enjoy their stay and sell others on the city as a travel destination. Folks who have never been here have the wrong impression of Baltimore. They have to be sold on the city's attributes, affordability and charm.

Mr. Hale, CEO of 1st Mariner Bank, is his own company's No. 1 promoter. He recognizes the need for BACVA's executive director to serve the same function - and the sooner, the better.

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