Visitor spending is up, BACVA says


Visitor spending in Baltimore rose slightly during the three months that ended in December over the corresponding period in 2002 - further evidence of a rebound in the local tourism industry, the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association reported yesterday.

The report - the second quarterly assessment by an agency that has suffered lagging numbers - projects continuing recovery during the fiscal third quarter, which will end in March, with an increase in room bookings over last year's projections.

"It shows that we're moving in the right direction," said Leslie R. Doggett, president and chief executive of BACVA. "It won't be overnight. But we're laying the foundation for us to be all we can and should be as a destination."

The report also showed that there was a slight increase in the number of visitors who stayed in Baltimore during the second quarter, about 265 more than in the corresponding quarter of fiscal 2003. At the same time, the number of hotel rooms used for meetings and conventions was about 24,000 lower than in last year's quarter.

The report shows that 65,213 people visited the city to attend conventions and meetings during the second quarter, up from 64,948 a year earlier. They spent an estimated $64.2 million, up from $63.97 million the previous year. Those attendees used 49,581 rooms in the most recent quarter, down from 73,716 in the second quarter of fiscal 2003, according to BACVA statistics.

Because conventions and major meetings are booked years in advance, calendar year 2003 had long been predicted to be a down year in Baltimore.

The majority of those meetings and conventions were booked in 1999-2000, when the travel industry in Baltimore was booming and rates being offered in Baltimore were relatively high. Many of the competitor cities had a more hotel rooms, so their pricing could be more competitive.

"It had been forecast, and it was not a surprise," Doggett said. "We're fighting for every piece of convention and meeting business we get out there. It's very competitive."

BACVA's third-quarter forecast predicts that 72,127 rooms will be occupied by 90,365 visitors who will spend $89 million. A year ago, the "room night" projection was significantly lower, with 53,459 rooms expected to be used by 72,494 visitors who would spend an estimated $71.4 million.

The number of inquiries from visitors interested in coming to Baltimore may be the strongest evidence yet of the industry rebound, the report says.

During the second quarter, BACVA received 203,834 inquiries on its Web site and toll-free number, a significant increase over the 142,712 inquiries during last year's second quarter.

It is projected that those inquiries will result in 239,678 hotel room bookings, compared with 151,083 during the corresponding period in the past fiscal year. That future business is projected to produce $86 million in direct spending, compared with $54.8 million a year ago. Direct spending refers to visitors' outlays during the meeting or convention.

The Travel Industry Association of America predicts that spending by domestic and international travelers in the United States will increase by 4.4 percent this year and that by next year's spending will topple records set in 2000. Leisure travel, which BACVA has targeted as a key area for growth in Baltimore, is forecast to jump 3.2 percent nationally this year, according to the TIA.

Yesterday's report also showed that 46,965 hotel rooms were booked during the second quarter for future years, up about 9,300 rooms from the number booked in the year-earlier quarter. Bookings typically are highest in late spring.

The data also showed that BACVA's aggressive strategy to obtain short-term bookings has made a difference. Its sales team booked 13 new meetings in fiscal 2004 with attendance totaling 8,585 and a projected 6,182 room nights and direct spending of $8.4 million. Nine other meetings were booked for fiscal 2005, with attendance of 20,135 and a projected 14,314 room nights and direct spending of nearly $20 million.

Although the travel industry, both in Baltimore and across the nation, is a long way from full recovery, Doggett is encouraged by the progress she sees.

"I think it shows that we see the light at the end of the tunnel," Doggett said. "It underscores the optimism of the consumer, and it shows that we're coming out of what had been a downward spiral."

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