Hotel association likely to endorse 1% county room tax But group worries funds may not raise occupancy


A Harford County proposal to levy a 1 percent room tax to collect funds for tourism promotion is likely to be endorsed by the Harford County Hotel and Motel Association.

But the association will agree to the controversial new tax only if a consultant's study clearly shows that increased tourism promotion will result in an increase in occupancy rates.

The association also agreed to pay for half of the $25,000 cost of the consultant's study, with the county paying the remainder. The study will begin by the end of the month and take approximately 60 days to be completed, said Paul Gilbert, director of the county's office of economic development.

"We want to make sure that we get a reasonable return on our investment," said Pam Hess, operator of the Comfort Inn and Best Western in Edgewood and spokeswoman for the association.

"If the county is packaged and marketed correctly, it could become more of an overnight destination. But right now, we're not a destination, we're a stopover. It's one thing to have events like the Farm Fair, but how many of those people are visitors who stay here overnight?"

Ms. Hess said the county should focus some of its tourism promotion efforts on corporate conference clientele and try to lure business people to stay an extra night to see the attractions in the county or to return to Harford with their families.

The 1 percent room tax would provide funding for a privately run tourism council, which would be administered by an executive director and board of directors composed of members of the business community and individuals.

Currently, Harford's tourism efforts are organized by the county's Office of Tourism with a $125,000 annual budget. The privatized tourism council would work with a budget of approximately $250,000, according to Mr. Gilbert.

"Currently, we are barely scratching the surface of the tourism potential in this county," said Mr. Gilbert. "I'm positive that the study will conclude that the benefits of increased promotion will more than compensate for the tax."

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