Founded a decade ago with seed money from local business people, the Howard County Tourism Council never faced high expectations. Council officials could always point to their relatively meager five-figure budget and claim the funds weren't there to give county tourism the boost it needed.
They can't make that claim any more, not since the county enacted a 5 percent hotel-motel tax that has helped quadruple the council's coffers, from $54,000 last year to $217,000 this year.
"With this budget, we really have to show results," says Tourism Council President Margaret Smith, acknowledging the pressure to perform.
For starters, the council has dipped into its beefed-up budget to hire a full-time marketing director. And it has unveiled a print advertising campaign that will run next spring in small publications in Pennsylvania, the state that sends the most tourists to Maryland.
The humorous "Howard Who?" ad campaign presents the county as a place with much to offer in the way of clothing and antique stores, dinner theaters, restaurants and hotels. Ms. Smith says the campaign will also stress the county's appeal as a convenient base from which overnight tourists can visit Baltimore, Annapolis and Washington.
In County Executive Charles I. Ecker, the Tourism Council has a staunch advocate. Another solid backer has been Dyan L. Brasington, the head of the Office of Economic Development.
Ms. Brasington is resigning, effective today, to head economic development efforts for the state of West Virginia, but council officials remain confident that the Ecker administration will continue to make tourism a priority. Ms. Brasington is being replaced by a former banking executive from Ellicott City, William H. Howard Jr.
With the recession lingering, Ms. Smith harbors no illusions that the gravy train will automatically roll the Tourism Council's way in 1993.
"Next spring, I expect we'll have to go back to the government hat in hand for the kind of budgeting we received this year," she says.
Aggressive marketing and some positive results by next spring would do much to keep the Tourism Council's budget in good shape.
The pressure's on, though. For a change, the council has some high expectations to live up to.