Tourism after Schaefer


In the hours before he vacated the governor's office, William Donald Schaefer signed-off on so many tourism-related projects he probably got writer's cramp: $3 million for a cruise ship terminal at Baltimore's Inner Harbor, $2 million to rescue the Frostburg-Cumberland scenic train ride, and financing for a golf course and convention center at Rocky Gap State Park.

There may be no sector of Maryland's economy so identified with the former governor as the $4.6 billion travel and tourism industry. From the rise of the Inner Harbor when he was mayor of Baltimore, to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, to the Reach-the-Beach road construction and myriad smaller projects, Mr. Schaefer possessed a sixth-sense about the attractions people would travel to see.

The payoff has been sizable: Of 340 industries in the state, two of the top 20 are travel-related: Lodging is the top job sector; eating and drinking places are 18th. The state estimates that 16 percent of all retail sales tax revenues are derived from the travel business. As Maryland strives to wean itself off defense and government jobs, tourism continues to show growth potential. There's hardly a corner of the state untouched by the focus on travel: from a new visitors center being built at formerly reclusive Smith Island to refurbishing the historic C&O; Canal in Western Maryland.

So, how will tourism fare in the years A.D. (After Don)? Possibly better.

The Schaefer administration's strategy for tourism promotion never lived up to his immense vision. Maryland ranked 38th in promotional spending and 30th in travel office budgets in the U.S. during fiscal year 1993. In spite of that middling level of investment, Maryland ranked 23rd in tax revenues paid by travelers and 17th in visitor trips of at least 50 miles. Professionals in the tourism and convention trades, as well as officials within state government, have complained about the low priority accorded tourism promotion here, especially in comparison to our neighbors. Center-city hoteliers fret that the $150 million expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center will be muted by a lack of promotion by city and state.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, as Prince George's County executive, pared back that county's high hotel tax and earmarked a portion of the revenue for tourism promotion. He has promised to bring a systematic, long-range approach to developing and marketing the tourist trade throughout Maryland. It is a cash cow worth milking.

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