Tourism officials want Annapolis day visitors to stay a night -- or two or three -- and are trying to make that as easy as possible.
The Annapolis & Anne Arundel County Conference & Visitors Bureau has installed a new direct phone line at City Dock in Annapolis where tourists can make instant room reservations.
"People were walking around Annapolis and deciding, 'Gee, I haven't seen enough. I want to stay longer,' " said Herman Schieke, executive director of the nonprofit group that promotes and develops county tourism.
"If we make it easier for them to make reservations, they're more apt to stay."
The volunteers at the Visitor Information Center at City Dock already had their hands full answering questions and had no way of knowing which hotels or inns had rooms.
Besides, hotels and motels outside downtown Annapolis were less obvious to tourists, though they are located a short shuttle trip from downtown, said Greg Page, president of Bed and Breakfast of Maryland/Traveller in Maryland, the reservation service contracted to run the new phone line.
"People would walk around all over the downtown area and a lot of times be told they didn't have anything available," Mr. Page said. "The B&B;'s are hard to find because they're not allowed to advertise by sign."
The new service, expected to appeal to visitors who decide at the last minute to stay overnight or add another night to a planned stay, should help shore up the county's $400 million tourism industry, Mr. Schieke said. Tourism is Annapolis' top industry, and the county's second biggest.
"This is particularly good for hotels, because it gives them an opportunity to fill a room that may have gone empty," Mr. Schieke said.
Visitors can get the service only by picking up the telephone at the booth.
The visitors bureau wanted to avoid competing with other call-in reservation companies, Mr. Schieke said.
Tourists can choose from among 14 bed and breakfasts in the historic district, on the South River or in Deale; one campground, and 16 hotels -- three in downtown Annapolis, six in Parole, four on Route 50 and three at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport. All participating hotels or inns pay the contractor a 10 percent commission if the visitor keeps the reservation.
About eight people a day have used the service since the phone was installed Aug. 3, Mr. Page said. It's open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays.
Mr. Page expects up to 40 callers a day once more people know of the service.
"They can walk around and see the sights instead of wasting time finding accommodations," he said.
Tom Negri, general manager of Loews Annapolis Hotel on West Street, said the service will help sell hotel rooms at a time when average annual occupancy rates in the county have dropped from 62 percent a couple of years ago to 59 percent.
"The hotels are really pleased with this," he said. "It gives us another sales avenue."
He added that Anne Arundel "is still a challenging market," because county and tourism officials have always assumed that visitors will come and failed to actively market the county.
"We are a destination, but we have to let people know we're here," he said.
Eventually, he'd like to see similar phones installed at BWI and even Washington's National Airport.