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Tourism revenues growing

May 27, 1999|By SCOTT BUTKI

The Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau continues to grow in revenue and membership, its executive director said.

In 1997, the bureau budget was $512,219, Executive Director Ben Hart said. It increased to $548,405 in 1998 and $703,000 in 1999, he said.

About 60 percent of budget revenues come from the 3 percent motel-hotel tax. Tax revenues have increased 18 percent over the past 11 months.

"This is unprecedented growth. We have been told nobody in the state has seen growth like this," Hart said while summarizing bureau activities at Tuesday's meeting of the Washington County Commissioners.

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The visitors bureau became a private enterprise on July 1, 1997. The main reason the bureau was privatized was because some members wanted more of its money spent on promotion and marketing and less on administrative costs, Hart said.

Since privatization, the portion of the budget allotted to administrative salaries has dropped from 60 percent to 30 percent, he said.

The bureau had 103 members in 1997, he said. That number increased to 154 in 1998 and to 191 this year, he said.

Bureau work over the last few months has resulted in the county's tentative selection as the site for an annual convention of the Region 22 Lions Club in 2002, 2006 and 2007, Hart said.

Up to 2,000 delegates from Region 22, which includes Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Delaware, are expected to attend. They would inject about $1 million to $2 million into the local economy each time, he said.

An American Legion organization, The Society of Forty Men and Eight Horses, plans to hold its annual convention in Hagerstown in September 2001. With as many as 3,000 people expected to attend, it will be the largest convention held in Washington County.

Hart told the commissioners that a condition of the contract with the veterans group was that bars open at 7 a.m.

The 2,000 to 3,000 veterans expected to attend the convention could pump more than $2 million into the community and fill between 1,000 and 1,800 hotel rooms, according to bureau officials.

Hart said that when the expanded Valley Mall opens in the fall, it will have a visitors center. The bureau also has part ownership in a visitors center at Prime Outlets at Hagerstown and one in downtown Hagerstown, he said.

The visitors centers lead people to spend more time and money in the county, Hart said.

Hart told the commissioners about the success of the bureau's Internet page, at http://www.marylandmemories.org.

The site has received 16,000 visits and 436,000 hits in the last 13 months, he said. A hit is recorded each time a visitor clicks on text or graphics within a Web page. During one visit, a person can record several clicks on a page, he said.

In comparison, the bureau received 5,600 responses to 1998 advertising programs, he said.

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