HORDES OF people didn't overrun Annapolis last weekend when the Whitbread Round the World fleet was in port -- at least not to the extent feared. That was probably a blessing.
Had the estimated onslaught of 200,000 people actually shown up, the state capital would have seemed a much less hospitable place.
As things turned out, the city was able to show off its best side to the Whitbread fans.
Whether predictions of massive gridlock or inclement weather was responsible for frightening off potential visitors, about 40,000 to 60,000 people came for the four-day Whitbread festival.
It is possible that many Marylanders did not wait for the Annapolis portion of the Whitbread visit. Large crowds turned out to see the ships after they arrived at Baltimore's Inner Harbor during a stop in their nine-month race around the world. On April 25, city police estimated 300,000 people milled around the harbor; another 200,000 came the next day.
In Annapolis, however, some merchants were disappointed. Instead of an unprecedented bonanza, most retailers interviewed said they did no better than on any normal spring weekend.
Expecting a much larger audience, city and Anne Arundel County officials were prepared. Traffic moved easily in and out of the city, and parking was sufficient.
Perhaps the event didn't meet inflated expectations, but the Whitbread was nevertheless a commercial success with hotels full and restaurants and bars bustling in the historic district.
From a promotional viewpoint, the weekend was also tremendous. Visitors took away positive impressions of Annapolis, which is what really counts.
They were able to get into town, see the impressive boats, spend some money, enjoy the views and depart without difficulty.
The likelihood is that these tourists will happily spread the word and return themselves -- even more crucial than a one-time economic shot in the arm.
Pub Date: 5/11/98