Governor heralds state tourism impact

August 02, 2006|By ANDREW A. GREEN | ANDREW A. GREEN,SUN REPORTER

Maryland attracted nearly 28 million tourists last year, bringing more than $10 billion into the state's economy, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced yesterday.

Nearly 13 million of them spent at least one night in the state, drawn by the variety of attractions the state offers and its proximity to millions of vacationers from the eastern half of the United States, Ehrlich said.

Tourism has been a major focus of the governor's economic development efforts - he has starred in a series of ads suggesting people from other states "seize the day off" to travel to Maryland - and Ehrlich said it has become a powerful segment of the state's economy.

"Tourism is huge because it's all net income to the state," Ehrlich said. "People come in, they spend money, they have a good time, and they leave. It's great."

Dennis Castleman, the head of the state's tourism office, said a precise comparison between visitor totals from previous years and this year is impossible because of a change in the way the Travel Industry Association of America counts them.

He said the association's old methods appeared to undercount Maryland's visitors but that the new numbers track more closely with the figures the state is able to gather from Baltimore, Ocean City and other major destinations.

The figures reflect only domestic tourists and don't count international visitors.

Castleman estimated that this year's numbers represent about 4 percent to 5 percent growth over last year, which he attributed to the state's marketing efforts and coordination with local tourism councils.

The most visible part of Maryland's campaign, the "seize the day off" ads, feature Ehrlich popping up at people's houses and offering to do domestic chores - such as hanging a ceiling fan or recaulking a tub - so they can have fun in Maryland.

While the ads are targeted to out-of-state viewers, they have been broadcast in Maryland on national cable channels and during Orioles broadcasts, which led to charges from Democrats that they were little more than publicly financed campaign ads.

The General Assembly adopted a prohibition this year preventing Ehrlich and other state officials from appearing in them - or any other publicly financed ads - until after the election.

Despite their recent absence because of the ban, Ehrlich said he thinks the ads have been effective.

"Everybody thinks I'm going to come and mow their lawn," he said. "It's funny. I don't mow my own lawn, even when I had a house."

Ehrlich made the announcement on a day of stops in Baltimore. He traveled to the Great Blacks in Wax Museum to highlight economic development projects and a new social services building in East Baltimore and to the Baltimore Museum of Art to dole out the $5.4 million in grants to museums and cultural programs that he included in this year's budget.

He also stopped at the Jewish Community Center in Park Heights to talk about senior issues and to express his support for Israel in its conflict in Lebanon.

andy.green@baltsun.com

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