THE OPENING of attractions this summer at the Power Plant and Harborplace is dramatic evidence of the growing importance of tourism to Baltimore. The hospitality industry funnels an estimated $1 billion a year into the local economy and employs more than 16,000 people.
"This is a major business," says city convention chief Carroll R. Armstrong. It is getting bigger: The 750-room Inner Harbor East Wyndham hotel is scheduled to break ground June 18. Four other downtown hotels, totaling 1,926 rooms, are planned.
The Inner Harbor has fueled Baltimore's tourism engine since Harborplace opened in 1980. But the attraction has steadily lost its local flavor and is dominated by outlets of national chains . A tourism official calls this "the Disneyfication of downtown Baltimore."
Traditional Baltimore, of course, survives in nooks and crannies beyond the Inner Harbor. But despite repeated efforts, the tourism industry has failed to find a way to draw Inner Harbor crowds to those attractions.
A trolley system, operated in conjunction with the Water Taxi, held promise. For $7 a day, a visitor could crisscross downtown attractions by land and water, getting on and off at various locations. But contract disputes ended that service after two summers.
Another trolley service has begun. offers $5 orientation tours four times a day. The drawback is that even though the trolleys, starting from the Inner Harbor, visit such destinations as Fells Point, Mount Vernon, the B&O; Railroad Museum and Fort McHenry, tourists are not allowed to get on or off at those sites.
Baltimore will not maximize its tourist potential until it can offer visitors a better way to reach areas of interest beyond the Inner Harbor. Development of a flexible, affordable shuttle system that combines water and land transportation ought to be a priority.
Pub Date: 5/25/98