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Md.'s marketing budget hasn't kept pace with tourism growth

In 2015, more than 41.1 million people visited Maryland, spending nearly $17 billion and directly supporting thousands of small businesses and more than 143,000 jobs in our state. However, a recent analysis of more than 87,000 hotel bookings by Hotelscombined.com ranks Maryland 26th on the list of most popular U.S. states to visit. Among our neighbors, Pennsylvania ranks 22nd, and Washington, D.C. ranks 13th. Virginia ranks near the top of the chart at 6th. It's is certainly not a coincidence that Virginia's tourism and advertising budget also ranks in the top 10 at more than $18 million per year — more than doubling the $8.25 million currently allocated to the Maryland Tourism Development Board.

We all know that Maryland doesn't lack for world-class attractions, but now it's time to amplify our message and invest more in the state's 10th largest private sector employer.

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Destination marketing is one of the greatest returns on investment a state can make with its tax dollars, and it's particularly important in Maryland because of fierce competition from surrounding regions for the same guests.

The Maryland Tourism Development Board, with the support of the of the Maryland Office of Tourism, has administered aggressive marketing campaigns and partnership programs that have reached far more potential visitors than many of the industry's small businesses and non-profit attractions ever could have on their own.

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Knowing this, the Maryland General Assembly passed the Tourism Promotion Act in 2008, which created special taxation codes to help track the revenue generated by the tourism industry. These codes allow us to accurately track the return on investment of Maryland's tourism marketing dollars. According to a recent study completed by Tourism Economics, an Oxford Economics Company, when you include the indirect and induced impacts, tourism in Maryland generated nearly $2.3 billion in state and local tax revenues in 2015, when more than 40 million visitors to Maryland spent roughly $16.4 billion in our state. Additionally, all those visitors helped sustain thousands of employees who earned $5.7 billion in wages.

In short, the tourism and hospitality industry is one of Maryland's most important, fastest growing, economic engines. In more tangible terms, it would cost each household in Maryland roughly $1,040 per year to equal the amount of revenue raised through the collection of state and local tourism taxes.

The Tourism Promotion Act also created a funding formula that would base any funding increases to the performance of the industry. The past two years' tourism taxes have exceeded their revenue goals set in that legislation; however, the correlating increases in marketing funding have not occurred. Imagine the increase in the number of jobs created, dollars spent and tax revenue collected our state would have reaped if we had invested marketing dollars in the state budget at a more competitive level.

Currently of the $8.25 million that is invested in Maryland's destination marketing, $2.5 million goes directly to local tourism efforts. From our cities to our more rural communities, marketing efforts can make meaningful impacts in the local economy and tax coffers. Think of the new restaurants, breweries, distilleries or wineries that are opening all over our state. Just these industries alone can help support local farmers, suppliers, and growers, as well as create jobs in the actual locations.

Tourism also supports retail and our main streets, which are losing millions of customers to online shoppers by the day. Quality retail, food and beverage options are also amenities that attract business relocation and young families to our state. These job creators would benefit considerably from enhancing our coordinated, cooperative regional tourism marketing.

The Maryland Tourism Coalition, working with its members and leadership, will be educating legislators and Gov. Larry Hogan's administration on the shortfall of funding that is due for tourism marketing and to protect the funds that are currently appropriated in this year's budget bill.

To keep pace with our neighbors in the highly competitive tourism market, the state must do more to support and grow our industry. A greater investment in tourism promotion and marketing will yield an even greater return.

Marylanders love our steamed crabs, beautiful beaches, rugged mountains and our precious Chesapeake Bay. We proudly display our red, white, black and gold colors. We are happy to share — we just need the financial support to help tell our story.

Winifred Roche is the executive director of the Maryland Tourism Coalition; her email is wini@mdtourism.org.

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