In an effort to increase the county's share of tourism dollars, the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau has unveiled its recently completed $1.4 million renovation and expansion project, a combination of technology for visitors and new office space for employees.
The bureau, on West Street in downtown Annapolis, was in need of an upgrade to accommodate an influx of tourists, which has resulted in an increase in staffing, said Connie Del Signore, the bureau's president and chief executive officer.
"We hired more people and were able to increase our productivity, but space limitations made it difficult to achieve optimum performance," Del Signore said.
"It was time for the bricks and mortar to catch up with the internal growth of the organization," she said.
Six million people visited the county in 2006, spending $1.8 billion, giving Anne Arundel the largest share of tourism business of any county in the state, Del Signore said.
Robert Hannon, president and chief executive officer of Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp., praised the project.
"The travel and tourism industry is one of Anne Arundel County's economic drivers, generating millions of dollars in consumer spending and tax revenues," Hannon said.
The bureau, which has nine full-time staffers and 120 volunteers, books 15,000 hotel room nights annually, adding $4 million in revenue to the county, home to the state's largest airport, Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
The county is expected to have 40 percent more hotel rooms in 2008 than it had in 2003.
The renovation was funded through government aid and private and corporate donations, with $550,000 in bond money from the state legislature, $200,000 from the county, $100,000 from the city and $83,000 from the Maryland Heritage Association.
The renovation of the building, which dates to the 1800s, included adding a conference room, new bathrooms and televisions and computers to the visitor's center.
Before the renovations, the bureau portion of the building was housed in an old bank lobby that was part of a 1970s rear addition.
The center now includes a second-story suite of offices above the old bank and breezeway, which added 1,500 square feet. The bureau was relocated to Main Street for 10 months while the renovations were being completed.
Del Signore said the bureau's Web site also will be changed. She said 33 percent of visitors to the county use the Internet to research and plan their trips.
Yesterday, the bureau - equipped with a flat-screen TV flaunting the county's many attractions and a clay model of downtown Annapolis - was teeming with patrons. There was a woman with a Southern drawl asking for directions, and there were tourists from Utah.
Bill Biermann, in the area from the Philadelphia suburbs to attend a work-related conference in Tysons Corner, Va., this week, said he decided to spend a few days in Annapolis.
He got a room at the Loews Annapolis Hotel downtown and stopped by the visitors bureau to arrange a trolley tour.
"It's a picture-perfect place to visit," he said.