Tourism expert is picked to head evaluation of convention bureau


A high-profile tourism strategist who has headed convention bureaus in New York City, Atlantic City, N.J., and Memphis, Tenn., will oversee an outside evaluation of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association.

Marshall Murdaugh, founder of Marshall Murdaugh Marketing in Richmond, Va., has been named as team leader for the Baltimore project by the association's review and evaluation steering committee. His work is to start immediately.

"We're excited to have someone of his caliber on our team to help with this important project," said Clarence T. Bishop, chairman of the association's board.

The association is expected to seek bids this week for the consulting firm that will do the actual evaluation. Officials hope to award a contract Oct. 9. They have said they want to have the review completed by mid-December.

Officials of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association announced the top-to-bottom review after The Sun reported in June that the $151 expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center has not lived up to its projections.

The Sun reported in a series of articles that instead of the 50 conventions a year projected by a 1993 feasibility study, the Baltimore Convention Center attracted a high of 41 conventions in fiscal 1998 and a low of 26 in fiscal 2000.

In addition, combined attendance from trade shows and conventions - the two most critical areas - has never reached the 330,000 projected. Attendance has ranged from a low of 192,625 three fiscal years ago to a peak of 234,394 last fiscal year, just 1,000 more than a decade earlier.

The review is expected to include an audit of the number of hotel rooms booked for conventions and an assessment of the association's staff performance as well as the organization's structure and its relationship to the convention center.

"I think the challenge is to do an assessment and evaluation that answers everyone's questions and concerns and interests and that's not just a report card, but that provides a new platform to prepare for future generations of visitors," said Murdaugh, who was in Baltimore yesterday to meet with the association's staff.

Murdaugh, whose Web site says he "developed the award-winning 'Virginia is for Lovers' marketing campaign," will be responsible for managing the review by the outside consulting firm, but he will not personally conduct the assessment.

Bishop declined to reveal the cost of Murdaugh's contract.

It was during Murdaugh's tenure as commissioner of Virginia's tourism agency from 1971 to 1983 that the "Virginia is for Lovers" marketing campaign was developed, according to his Web site.

The slogan was created by Martin & Woltz Inc., a Richmond advertising firm that later became the Martin Agency.

Although the first "Virginia is for Lovers" ad appeared in Modern Bride magazine in March 1969, Murdaugh is responsible for popularizing the slogan, according to Martha Steger, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Tourism Corp., the state's marketing arm.

"There was scant use of this slogan before Marshall took over," she said. "He was very instrumental in driving it. He realized the power that the slogan had."

Murdaugh recently performed a marketing and performance audit for the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau, which has come under fire recently over allegations of rampant cancellations, payment of undeserved bonuses, dated marketing programs and lavish spending of taxpayer money.

Murdaugh's consulting work also includes domestic and international projects and presentations on tourism marketing for various organizations. These include the Australian Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus, the International Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus and the Travel Industry Association of America.

Marshall Murdaugh Marketing was formed two years ago to provide a range of strategic planning services for the tourism industry, including: marketing, program audits, branding, theme development and other services.

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