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Too little, too late

May 28, 1997

Last week, while most citizens' attention was focused on the Hagerstown city election, some Washington County Commissioners had second thoughts about restructuring the county's tourism operation. Their concern is too little, too late, and they should step aside and allow changes to take place.

Commissioner Ron Bowers questioned the wisdom of closing several of the county's information centers and directing funds away from some events the agency has traditionally funded, like the Miss Maryland pageant. We agree that if there's only going to be one information center, downtown Hagerstown may not be the best site, if only because there aren't any Winnebago-sized parking spaces within a block of Public Square.

But the idea that all these centers and activities should be funded because they promote "long-range tourism" is flawed.

Why is that? Because there's never been a tracking mechanism to establish a relationship between brochures handed out and sites visited. Nor has there been any serious study of how many visitors individual events like the Miss Maryland pageant bring to the area.

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Without that, how can the county know what's the best use of local room-tax cash? Without knowing which events draw tourists, how can the county make an intelligent decision about whether to support the Maryland Symphony Orchestra Concert at Antietam or the youth soccer tournament put on here annually by the Mason-Dixon soccer club?

We mention the MSO concert because in 1994, a company called Markinetics, Inc., surveyed visitors to the annual July event and found that the typical couple or family traveled less than 25 miles to attend the event and spent less than $10 the entire day.

With information like that, the tourism agency can promote what most agree is a beautiful event for local people into something that draws folks from outside the area.

Would it be easier to accomplish that by handing out brochures, or by advertising the event in advance in the metropolitan areas? The answer is obvious, and the commissioners should step aside and let the revamped tourism agency get on with business.

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