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Carroll County tourism industry on the rise

After a decrease in county tourism revenue for Fiscal Year 2010 from 2009, the tourism industry of Carroll County is beginning to recover, said JoAnna Crone, manager of the Carroll County Office of Tourism.

According to the Tourism Development Annual Report of Maryland for Fiscal Year 2010, issued by the Maryland Office of Tourism, Carroll County tourism sales and use tax decreased by 8.2 percent, from $4,866,616 in 2009 to $4,466,477 in 2010. However, the 2011 Annual Report for Fiscal Year 2011 states that the county has experienced a 5.2 percent increase over the past year.

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In fact, Crone said, only four counties in Maryland experienced growth in tourism revenue for FY 2010: Montgomery, Kent, Somerset, and Worcester.

"However in fiscal year 2011, the trend changed and all but three counties in Maryland experienced an increase in growth," Crone said. "This ... trend shows that despite the nationwide economic crisis Maryland continues to attract more and more visitors each year, Carroll County included."

While the ultimate reason for increased tourism isn't known, Crone said, she believes the Carroll County Office of Tourism's marketing strategy played a part in bringing people back to the area.

The Office of Tourism placed ads in well-known publications like Better Homes and Gardens, Southern Living, AAA World Magazine and Destination Maryland.

They also launched Facebook and Twitter accounts in 2011, Crone said, generating 16,000 advertising leads. Each of the interested parties received a visitor's guide and brochures relating to specific interests.

Kelly Crum, owner of the Inn at Norwood in Sykesville, said she noticed a significant increase in occupancy and revenue from calendar year 2010 to 2011.

"Our occupancy rate for 2010 was 30 percent while 2011 was 40 percent," Crum said. "For a seven-room inn, that 10 percent makes a big difference."

The Inn at Norwood is continuing to experience high occupancy rates in 2012, with four out of seven rooms booking most weekends, Crum said. She expects the positive trend to continue throughout the year, she said.

Cindy Wilhoite, owner of the Hilltop Hideaway, a bed and breakfast in Hampstead, said she is also experiencing an improvement in business. Comparatively, the summer of 2011 was much better than 2010, she said.

"This past year, not just the summer, we have been booked almost every weekend, occasional weeknights and for a few extended stays," Wilhoite said. "2012 has also been going well with many return guests. This year has a lot of potential."

Denise Beaver, deputy director of Carroll County Department of Economic Development, said she credits the increase in tourism sales and use tax to cost effective traveling choices.

"People can't afford to take a plane to the Bahamas right now," Beaver said. "But they can drive to a local area that is full of community history and charm for a weekend."

According to the Carroll County 2011 Department of Economic Development Annual Report, the top 20 events of the year drew 18,100 more visitors than in 2010.

Such events include Surf and Turf Summertime Fun Festival, Maryland Wine Festival, Westminster Fall Festival, Fall Harvest Days, Mistletoe Mart, Hampstead Day and Art in the Park.

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Crone said she anticipates this year's 150th Commemoration of the Civil War to help continue the increase in visitation. The event is to be held in September.

More information on 2012 events are available in the newly redesigned and published brochures from the Carroll County Office of Tourism. The Spring/Summer 2012 Calendar of Events and the Official 2012 Carroll County Visitors Guide are available for free at the Carroll County Visitor Center.

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