Maryland tourism industry enjoyed a banner 2011 -- Gazette.Net


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Visitors to Maryland spent more than $14.3 billion in 2011, the most since 2008, when visitors spent $14.5 billion.

The Maryland Office of Tourism Development announced these and other numbers during the Maryland Annual Tourism & Travel Summit in Cambridge late last week.

Maryland has increased its market share of the national visitor market 17 percent since 2007, far outperforming regional and national trends, Executive Director Margot Amelia wrote in an email to her staff, following the two-day conference. Visitor spending in 2011 was up 7.8 percent from $13.3 billion in 2010.

“These are some pretty fantastic success measurements,” Amelia wrote.

The U.S. Travel Association has forecast modest visitor growth for domestic and international travel through 2016, including 2 percent in 2012 and 1.4 percent in 2013, according to the state office’s fiscal 2013 marketing plan.

Amelia also emphasized that for every $1 spent on tourism advertising, the state returned $220 in incremental visitor spending, $31 in state and local taxes and more than $6 in state sales tax revenue. The office also conducted a study that showed its investments generated more than 1,800 new jobs in 2011, amounting to one job for every $458 spent on advertising, according to the marketing plan.

Central Maryland, including Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Howard counties, was the biggest draw, capturing 49 percent of total visitors.

Maryland’s tourism industry employed more than 131,000 state residents in 2011, making it the 10th-largest private-sector employer in the state, according to state figures.

Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport also reported a second record-breaking year, with more than 22 million passengers in 2011 and 11.2 percent more international passengers.

Contributing to interest in the tourism office was the state’s new quarterly promotion this year, which partnered with statewide venues to offer Maryland experiences. Its first effort, the Deep Creek Lake Vacations Sweepstakes in July, received 1,500 applicants, according to the marketing plan. The office has planned other promotions for the year-end holiday, spring and summer seasons.

The office also launched a mobile application for its Civil War Trails in August, highlighting the Antietam Campaign. The Gettysburg Campaign is to be available this spring.

Gay wedding tourism

Maryland also stands to benefit from promoting itself nationally as a place for same-sex weddings following voter approval this month of the new state law.

“Maryland has always promoted its wedding venues. This just adds another drift to that marketing,” said spokeswoman Connie Yingling.

She said the state is not conducting any direct promotions yet, as wedding venues typically are in the local tourism jurisdictions. For example, Visit Baltimore launched a same-sex wedding website just hours after the law was approved.

Visit Baltimore has been running a campaign to make Baltimore into a gay-friendly destination spot for about four years, culminating with the launch of the website and a gay-friendly visitor's guide, said Sam Rogers, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for Visit Baltimore.

The guide has received 171 requests and the website has had more than 1,000 hits, he said. The site also lists more than 25 hotels that have been specifically approved as gay-friendly.

"There's no question there's going to be an impact” from the approval of same-sex marriage, Rogers said. “It's hard to project what that impact will be. But the wedding business is big business. This provides Maryland residents the opportunity to marry here and to bring visitors into the state, including Baltimore."

Rogers said Visit Baltimore officials are optimistic that the new law will bring in some destination weddings, with couples lured by Baltimore attractions such as the Inner Harbor and its museums.

Yingling said state parks also are exploring their marriage venue options in general.

lrobbins@gazette.net