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WAR OF THE WELCOME MATS Maryland lags behind neighbors in bid for tourists


As the tourism season approaches, Marylanders are being bombarded by television commercials praising the natural beauties and historic sites of Virginia and Pennsylvania.

But don't look for TV commercials from Maryland promoting the Eastern Shore, the western mountains, the Antietam Battlefield, Baltimore, Annapolis or the state's other attractions.

With a state advertising budget less than one-fourth the size of its counterparts in neighboring Pennsylvania and Virginia. Maryland is limited to buying space in newspapers and travel magazines in hopes of luring visitors to the state.

"We have the infrastructure, but we can't compete in delivering the message to the consumer," said George Williams, director of the Maryland Office of Tourism Development.

According to a report released this year by the Maryland Tourism Coalition, tourism pumps more than $4 billion into Maryland's economy each year, and generates about 76,000 jobs and $300 million a year in taxes.

If Maryland had kept up with Virginia's spending on promoting tourism, it could have generated an additional $150 million in travel spending and 6,000 more jobs," the report said.

Maryland's tourism budget for the current fiscal year is about $5 million, of which $958,572 is earmarked for advertising. The rest is for salaries, research and operations.

According to the U.S. Travel Data Center, Maryland's advertising budget in the 1990-1991 fiscal year placed the state 39th among the 50 states in terms of tourism advertising expenditures.

Virginia was 15th and Pennsylvania 14th.

Virginia's current tourism budget is just under $10 million, and the state will spend more than $4 million on tourism advertising in the current fiscal year, according to Bruce Twyman, director of advertising and research for the Virginia Department of Economic Development.

Pennsylvania spends nearly all of its tourism dollars on advertising, buying $4.8 million worth of ads in the current fiscal year, said Ron Jury, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Commerce.

All three states aim their advertising at travelers from the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions, but their strategies differ.

Pennsylvania spends nearly all of its money on television advertisements to market its free travel booklet, Mr. Jury said.

Baltimore stations have been broadcasting the Pennsylvania spots about 30 times a week nearly every week since April 1.

Virginia spends about 65 percent of its spring advertising campaign funds on television commercials intended to evoke warm and positive feelings about the state.

Virginia has advertised on national cable networks and on stations in New York, Washington, Philadelphia and Baltimore. Baltimore stations have been running the Virginia spots 15 to 20 times a week for the past month.

In the last two years, Maryland has not aired any television commercials outside of the Baltimore market and has budgeted no money to produce any new commercials in the next fiscal year, which starts July 1. Instead, the state will be advertising in national magazines and in mid-Atlantic region newspapers.

"I think we have so much to promote in Maryland, but much of it is a big secret," said Michael Whipple, president of the Hotel and Motel Association of Greater Baltimore.

Marcia Harris, executive vice president of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, said she is envious of Virginia's ability to promote itself. Virginia legislators cut nearly $2 million from the state's advertising budget last fiscal year, but the money was restored this year, allowing the state to increase its marketingefforts and advertise as far north as Canada.

Those efforts help Virginia attract about 2.5 million visitors from Maryland each year, said Mark Brown, research manager for Virginia's Tourism Development Group. Pennsylvania and Maryland could not provide figures on where their tourists came from.

"Maryland has a lot more to offer. We just can't afford to promote it," Ms. Harris said. "We're determined to correct the inequity."

The state's restaurant owners, along with the Hotel and Motel Association and the Maryland Tourism Council, began working together last year to lobby the legislature for more money for tourism promotion. One possibility being considered is increasing private support to market the state.

But Mr. Whipple said he thinks business already is doing its share to promote Maryland travel. Hotels, for example, advertise the sites near them as a way of attracting guests. What is needed is more legislative support, he said.

The General Assembly increased the state tourism advertising budget by $200,000, to $1.1 million, in fiscal year 1993, which starts July 1. But the increase will go primarily for more overseas advertising as part of a cooperative arrangement with Virginia and Washington promoting the Chesapeake Bay area. Maryland's domestic advertising budget, which has declined in each of the past two years, will be cut again, by $78,110, to $578,110 in the next fiscal year.

Mr. Williams said his office has tried to find the best way to make use of the limited dollars. One strategy is to pay for advertisements for specific events. Another tactic is to target Pennsylvania in hopes of capturing Pennsylvanians on their way to Virginia.

The key is attracting travelers from outside the state, Mr. Williams said.

"If tourism is to be economic development, you have got to bring new money in," he said.

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