Hannah L. Byron, deputy assistant secretary of the Maryland Division of Tourism, Film and the Arts, has been named to replace retiring Director of Tourism George Williams.
Byron, 44, a Maryland native, will assume her duties in March.
"We're very lucky to have found someone locally who already knows the state well, the industry well and has broad-based support within the industry and the government," said Richard C. "Mike" Lewin, secretary of the Department of Business and Economic Development, who oversees the tourism office and made the appointment.
Lewin said he thought long and hard about conducting a national search, but decided that he could find the necessary talent within the state and avoid the time, expense and risk of hiring someone from outside.
He praised Byron's management and people skills and her understanding of tourism - an industry that generates an estimated $7.1 billion annually in Maryland.
Byron oversees day-to-day operations of the Division of Tourism, Film and the Arts and has been active in the state's Civil War, heritage tourism, nature and sports marketing initiatives.
"George has laid a great foundation," Byron said yesterday. "My goal is to continue on that course."
Williams, 60, who has been the state's director of tourism for 10 years, plans to step down in March to join his wife, who has taken a job in New Orleans. The move will take Williams and his wife, Tish, closer to her hometown of Bay St. Louis, Miss. The two have 3-year-old twin daughters.
Byron said she would like to help make Maryland one of the top 20 tourist destinations in the country. Currently it ranks about 25th, she said. To move to No. 20 or better would require increasing the number of visitors from about 22 million to 28 million - which Byron would like to see happen over the next five years.
One of the greatest challenges for the state is obtaining adequate funding for marketing, said Byron, who has been instrumental in expanding marketing resources and tax incentives for the film office and in developing a marketing program for the Maryland State Arts Council.
Byron was pegged by some in the industry as heir-apparent as soon as Williams announced his plans to leave.
"When George announced his retirement, I really gave it some thought," she said. "I'd been spending most of my time on tourism and marketing. I really felt like I was the best person for the job."
"Hannah is very talented," said Mary Jo McCulloch, president of the Maryland Hotel and Motel Association. "We look forward to working with her."
Before joining the Department of Business and Economic Development in January 1999, Byron was the director of corporate communications and government affairs at Maryland Public Television in Owings Mills. Prior to that, she served as secretary of appointments for Gov. Parris N. Glendening. From 1987 to 1994, she was director of federal programs for the North Carolina Department of Transportation. While there, she helped initiate air service from Raleigh-Durham to London and assisted in the expansion of North Carolina's State Ferry Program.
She lives in Owings Mills with her husband, a pilot and lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force. They have two children.