With guide, website, Baltimore Co. ramps up effort to attract tourists

New efforts designed to bring in visitor dollars

December 16, 2010|By Raven L. Hill, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore County officials are ramping up efforts to promote local attractions, hoping to mirror Baltimore City's success in becoming a tourist destination.

For the past two years, county officials have worked with local business, restaurant and hotel owners on a tourism initiative. Now, the county has released a visitors guide and launched a website and Facebook site to draw people to attractions like the state fair, the Piedmont Wine Trail and rural horse farms.

County tourism is a $1.85 billion industry, employing more than 18,000 people with a $511 million payroll. The county's hotel tax brought in more than $14 million last year, officials said.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said he visited many of the sites featured in the visitors guide while campaigning this year.

"I've lived here my whole life, yet I'm going to these venues with my eyes wide open, somewhat amazed that this is actually in Baltimore County," Kamenetz said. "Each of these sites could be located anywhere in the country, but they're just around the corner."

And they offer an opportunity for "economic stimulus," he said.

Baltimore has marketed its aquarium, science center and waterfront with great results, said Hal Ashman, chairman of the Baltimore County Executive's Conference and Tourism Advisory Council.

"If we do even half the job that Baltimore City has done, we're going to see an economic engine like we've never seen before," said Ashman, president of Ultimate Watersports in Gunpowder Falls State Park. "We're really excited that the new county executive Kamenetz sees what [former Executive] Jim Smith saw and is fully supportive and is standing behind it."

Tourism brings in about $40 to $50 for every dollar spent, Ashman said.

"We have an opportunity not only to catch up to what the city has done to create tourism, but we're already working very closely with the city and partnering with them so we can cross-market each other," Ashman said. "Then we create more of a win-win than we've ever had before."

The visitors guide highlights festivals and farmers' markets and provides a shopping, dining and hotel directory. Information can also be found online at enjoybaltimorecounty.com and on Facebook (Baltimore County Tourism).

"We want to keep these businesses afloat and help promote them, which then employs people and generates revenue for the county," Kamenetz said.

raven.hill@baltsun.com

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