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County 4th best tourist stop in Md.

March 14, 1999|By SCOTT BUTKI

Hagerstown was the fourth most popular destination in Maryland in 1997, up from eighth in 1996, according to the Maryland Office of Tourism Development.

Only Baltimore, Ocean City and Annapolis attracted more tourists, the office said.

That finding confirms a recent state study that showed an increase in tourism activity in Washington County.

And local business and government leaders say the number of visitors has grown even larger since the report was compiled.

"The Economic Impact of Travel on Maryland Counties 1997," a study prepared for the Maryland Office of Tourism Department by the U.S. Industry Association of America, attempts to determine how many tourists come to each county.

The study is based on a nationwide model which calculates how much people generally spend during trips.

The report says that travelers spent $30 million more in Washington County in 1997 compared to 1994.

Tourists spent about $146 million in Washington County in 1997 while they spent about $125 million in 1994, the report said.

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The report defines tourists, or what it refers to as "travelers," as people who travel more than 100 miles from home to visit a business or attraction.

About 2,040 people had tourism-related jobs in Washington County in 1997, compared to about 1,820 in 1994, the report said. The payroll for the employees, such as maids and waitresses, increased from about $30 million to $37.24 million, it said.

Ben Hart, executive vice president of the Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, attributed the changes to a growing awareness of tourist attractions in Washington County.

The bureau, which was privatized in July 1997, has been spending more money in recent years marketing and promoting the county and its attractions, he said.

The bureau spent $100,000 in 1997 and $160,000 in 1998 attending trade shows, buying advertising and marketing the area, he said.

Hart said it's hard to tell how much credit the bureau can take. The bureau is going to do a study to see how much impact it is having on the tourism business, he said.

New businesses, such as Prime Outlets at Hagerstown which opened in August 1998, are drawing many more people to Washington County, he said.

During its first five months, the outlet mall attracted 1.6 million shoppers, according to one study. The tourism bureau is probably getting more inquiries about Prime Outlets than any other site in Washington County, he said.

After visiting the outlet mall, many people are going on to other attractions in the county, which are also showing increased attendance, he said.

Some of the visitors are "day trippers," residents of nearby cities such as Baltimore, who will come to Washington County attractions but not spend the night, he said.

But many others do spend the night in local hotels and motels, where they pay the 3 percent lodging tax. About 63 percent of the bureau's budget comes from the tax, Hart said.

During a recent interview, Hart listed some projects which he said should further increase tourism:




* A $43 million expansion of Valley Mall in Halfway is scheduled for completion in the fall. New stores include Hecht's, Old Navy, The Gap, Disney Store, Foot Action, Lady Footlocker, Kings Jeweler and Northern Reflections. Bon Ton also is expanding.

* Phase III of Prime Outlets at Hagerstown. The number of stores will increase from about 80 to about 105, mall administrators say.

* The Centre at Hagerstown, which is being built northwest of the interchange for Interstate 81 and U.S. 40. Stores at the shopping mall will include a Wal-Mart Supercenter, Home Depot, Border's Books & Music and Circuit City.

* A planned University System of Maryland campus in Washington County, which would be built at Allegheny Power's Friendship Technology Park.

Meanwhile, the bureau is having some success bringing more conventions to the county, he said.

"I don't see anything but a good steady growth of the tourism and meeting market," he said.

Washington County Administrator Rodney Shoop agrees. He thinks one reason for the increased tourism is the Whitetail Ski Resort in Mercersburg, Pa.

An increasing number of people come to the resort, spend time at Washington County attractions and stay in local hotels, he said.

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