ROLLING OUT RED CARPET Program aims to put area on tours' agenda


Dusting off an old marketing tactic that has been dormant here for the past four years, the Baltimore Tourism Association is rolling out its Red Carpet Weekend, a regional promotion aimed at luring more tourists to the metropolitan area.

March 15 through March 17, the BTA will host more than a dozen busloads of tour planners, or "brokers," from neighboring states. The tour planners represent clubs and other organizations that charter buses for weekend and overnight trips.

BTA and its supporters hope to familiarize and impress the visiting road-trip planners with Baltimore's tourist attractions so that the planners put the area on their tour itineraries.

Red Carpet Weekend is designed "to show off what the Baltimore area has to offer," says Kelly Groff, the tourist assistant at the Baltimore County Office of Promotion and Tourism who helped organize the event.

BTA members will wine, dine and entertain the more than 500 Red Carpet Weekend attendees at the expense of local hotels, restaurants and attractions, which will open their doors free of charge as part of the promotion. Each group of tour operators will visit the National Aquarium in Baltimore, the Maryland Science Center and several dinner theaters around the city.

The itinerary also includes a harbor cruise and visits to Annapolis, Towson and other places.

"We've been very generous to these people in order to encourage them to come back," says Ila W. Christenbury, who organized the promotion as BTA's chairman of outreach.

And to give tour planners the full scope of the sights around Baltimore, the BTA is holding a marketplace March 16 at the Sheraton Inner Harbor. There, tour planners can pick up brochures and speak directly with representatives of local attractions.

The Red Carpet Weekend is a revival of a promotion that the city used to sponsor, according to BTA President Dennis Dellamalva. Lacking sufficient cash and manpower to continue the weekends, the city stopped organizing them four years ago, Mr. Dellamalva says.

BTA, an organization whose 100 members include restaurants, hotels, transportation companies and other tourism-related businesses, wants to claim a larger share of the multibillion-dollar bus tour industry.

During 1989 -- the last year for which figures are available -- the state pulled in 0.66 percent of the $13.16 billion in tourist spending on the nation's bus tours, according to figures gathered by the National Tour Association in Lexington, Ky.

The weekend was purposely scheduled during the slow or "shoulder" season for Baltimore tourism, according to Ms. Christenbury. "We can give away things because we are not too busy."

It comes at a time when the tourism industry remains weak nationwide because of the recession and the Persian Gulf war. "That's when you put your best foot forward," Ms. Christenbury says.

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