Pitching Maryland

Our view: Tourism officials are smart to seek visitors close to home

June 24, 2008

Tourism is big business in Maryland, but soaring gas prices and a slumping economy threaten to put a damper on this important source of revenue for the state. That's why tourism officials here are smart to look for ways to attract more visitors from closer to home.

In 2006, the last year for which figures are available, Maryland welcomed 28 million visitors who spent more than $11.4 billion enjoying themselves here. Tourism accounted for more than $895 million in state and local taxes and provided more than 116,000 jobs to local residents. In terms of employment, it's the fourth-largest industry in the state.

Gov. Martin O'Malley announced the state's new ad campaign targeting visitors from the Washington, Philadelphia and Baltimore metropolitan areas this spring, when the likelihood of $4-a-gallon summer gas prices became clear. With the slogan "Pretty. Close.," the ads sum up the two best reasons to make Maryland a destination: the beauty of its beaches, parks and waterways and their convenient proximity.

In previous years, Maryland devoted more resources to attracting visitors from Richmond, Va., and the cities of Harrisburg, Lebanon and York in Pennsylvania. But most people tend to stay close to home even in good times. Baltimoreans already make up the largest number of visitors to Ocean City, while people from the Washington suburbs constitute the majority of visitors to Western Maryland's national parks and historic sites.

There's no early evidence that the season's high gas prices have caused a drop-off in travel to the state's most popular destinations. But by concentrating their appeal toward residents of the three largest metropolitan areas within the campaign's 400-mile drive radius, tourism officials hope to get the maximum bang for their advertising buck. Over half of all Maryland tourists come from those three jurisdictions.

Many families probably won't cancel long-planned vacations just because gas prices are up. Nor are they likely to abandon destinations they've enjoyed for years. But with experts predicting that as gas prices continue to rise, people will drive less, it's important to remind Marylanders that seeking recreations closer to home can make limited dollars go further.

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