Maryland Woos Its Own For Tourism

Resources invested in attracting local visitors

June 23, 2008|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,Sun reporter

As the economic slowdown worsens amid the summer surge in gas prices, some Maryland tourism officials are looking nearby for visitors.

Instead of lobbying Californians or even Midwesterners to sleep in downtown Baltimore hotels and explore Annapolis' historic district, they're imploring Marylanders and others nearby to vacation in Maryland.

Baltimore City tourism organizers held a lunch in Washington recently, singing the praises of coming events such as the African American Heritage Festival and Artscape, and reminding their southern neighbor that Charm City is less than an hour away.

In Anne Arundel County, it's called the Trips on a Tankful campaign - an effort to convince residents of Baltimore and Washington to visit.

Harford County officials advertise "Road Trips" on the county's Web site and point out easy access from some of the region's big cities. Howard County officials are dubbing 2008 to be the summer of the "stay-cation," the stay-at-home vacation.

"Annapolis and Anne Arundel County offer the charm and sophistication that they [Baltimore and Washington residents] once traveled hours to experience," said Connie Del Signore, president of the county visitors bureau. "This year, just a half an hour from home, they can get out on the water, dine, shop and relax in a destination that rivals cities around the world. We are close, yet a world apart from their daily routine. Instead of pumping their money away on gas, they can invest it in memories that will last a lifetime."

Fewer Marylanders appear willing to drive long distances for vacations this summer, based on Memorial Day weekend figures from AAA Mid-Atlantic, suggesting tourism officials might be smart to invest resources in attracting local visitors.

"We think that with high gas prices, that trend will likely continue, and what that tends to translate to is people staying closer to home and traveling shorter distances," said AAA spokeswoman Ragina C. Averella. "Not only high gas prices, but the overall higher cost of travel will cause more people to look toward traveling to closer destinations."

Nancy Hinds of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association said the group is thinking regionally in its efforts to attract visitors to the city this summer.

There have been trips to Macy's Herald Square in New York to promote Baltimore's food scene, with one recently featuring crab cake and pasta cooking demonstrations by Little Italy restaurant chefs. One food taster won a free hotel night and a discounted Amtrak ticket to Baltimore.

In addition, Hinds said, more than 80 lodging facilities in the region are participating in a summer hotel promotion: book two nights and get a third night free.

Howard County is also showcasing its finer points - access to the Patapsco River, historic Ellicott City and boutique shopping.

Next month, the county will kick off its restaurant week, an event already well-established in Baltimore and other large cities. So far, about 10 restaurants are on board.

Victoria Goodman, a Catonsville resident and Howard County tourism official, said she thought fun and cheap as she planned a summer getaway for her family.

Instead of the usual week at the beach in a pricey hotel, Goodman is spending a weekend this month with her husband and 12-year-old son exploring Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural wonder Fallingwater just over the state line in western Pennsylvania.

"In my economic world, I'm thinking how can we still do fun things and stay within the budget," said Goodman, who heads a program in the Howard County Office of Tourism. "We made the decision because there's something close by that we haven't seen. It's affordable. It's going to be a wonderful experience."

Instead of targeting its marketing dollars in Ohio and Richmond, Va., the Annapolis & Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau is sharpening its focus on closer metropolitan areas such as Baltimore, Philadelphia and Northern Virginia with the realities of the economic slowdown.

There's also a focus on the international market, said Del Signore, the Anne Arundel tourism official, because of the strength of many foreign currencies against the U.S. dollar.

"You can do everything you want to do except snow ski right here," she said. "People are continuing to travel, and we're in a perfect spot."

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

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