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Taylor seeking to double tourism


House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. has asked a group of legislators to evaluate whether Maryland's tourism industry is receiving enough emphasis within the state - a study that could conclude that the state tourism office should report directly to the governor.

"My greatest hope is to maximize the success of the tourism industry in Maryland," Taylor said. "One way to create a stronger focus is to give tourism Cabinet-level status. But, I have not yet reached a conclusion, and I don't want the legislators to do so either."

The Allegany County Democrat is a man whose legacy will include Canal Place, a $250 million state and federal project that will refill part of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal in the heart of Cumberland, allowing tourists to ride canal boats pulled by mules, and who brokered the deal that created the Rocky Gap Lodge and Golf Resort in Cumberland. So, he admits to having certain established beliefs about tourism.

"I'm going into this with a preconceived notion that we are not giving the tourism industry enough focus," he said.

"I think one can argue that we haven't come close to maximizing the value of the tourism industry throughout our state. There are many jobs to be created, a much greater tax base to build and more economic growth. If the maximum way to do that is to give it Cabinet-level status, we should do it. ... I would not be surprised to conclude that the volume of tourism could be doubled."

Taylor recently asked members of the House Economic Matters and Appropriations committees to study tourism in Maryland in advance of the start of the legislative session in January.

Among the key questions Taylor would like to see answered is how much Maryland should spend on tourism.

The tourism budget for the 2001 fiscal year is $13.4 million, much less than is being spent in the states with which Maryland competes. For instance, when Maryland's fiscal 1999 budget was $10 million, Virginia's annual budget for tourism was $21 million, and Pennsylvania's was $18 million.

Richard C. Mike Lewin, secretary of the Department of Business and Economic Development, doesn't mind studying tourism, but he likes the structure of the department as is. Currently, he oversees the tourism office within the state's Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED).

"I feel tourism belongs in this department," Lewin said, citing $7 billion in economic impact from tourism in 1999. "It's an incredible economic driver. I think it's unlikely that any department of tourism as a stand-alone entity will fly. At this time, I wouldn't favor it."

The majority of states, 38, do handle tourism as a department within another, but within the past 10 years, 10 states have chosen to break out those departments or at least partially privatize those offices, according to the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA). Two states fall into neither category.

Among the states with Cabinet-level departments are: Vermont, Kentucky, Wisconsin, New Mexico and South Dakota, said Patty H. Hubbard, a vice president of TIA.

"Those states that have a separate tourism department recognize the economic potential of the travel and tourism industry," Hubbard said. "It isn't buried in the normal structure somewhere. You can't think too far out if you don't know how much money you're going to have or you have to worry about it being cut."

Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer has talked about a Cabinet-level tourism department for several years, bringing it up to Gov. Parris N. Glendening as recently as a few months ago, he said.

"I think it's something that should have been done a long time ago," Schaefer said. "Tourism has been disjointed and ignored. It can't be under another department, because it doesn't get the attention. You need your own budget."

Lenny P. Berger, a retired physician and an Ocean City hotelier, is another advocate.

"I think it's a wonderful idea," he said. "It definitely should be a department of its own. Unfortunately, it's been a stepchild of DBED. Everyone is vying for the same dollars when you're in another department."

State Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, the Baltimore County Democrat who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, also favors further study of tourism, but he's not as sold on the idea of a separate department, saying the money might be better used.

"I don't know if we want to spend a half million developing a department of tourism," he said. "You're spending a lot of money on bureaucracy. I'd just as soon take that money and spend it on tourism itself.

"I think we need to put a greater emphasis on what we have rather than creating a department that we don't know that we need."

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