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Bureau staff tours the country

July 24, 1999|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

Staff members in the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau are traveling far and wide to attract tours, conventions and other visitors to the county.

Trade shows in California, Puerto Rico and London are among the scheduled destinations over the next six months.

The bureau has $55,690 budgeted to pay for 21 trips scheduled for 1999. That pays for travel expenses and registration fees at the trade shows - the most expensive of which is a four-night trip to San Diego, Calif., in August for an American Society of Association Executives convention. That is expected to cost $5,790, including $3,090 for registration fees.

How much business those trips may bring back to Washington County is hard to say, Bureau Executive Director Ben Hart said.

"We couldn't come out and say we brought in $55 million. We don't know," Hart said.

"If we're not doing our job, the hotel people would let us know," he said.

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The bureau's governing board includes representatives from two of the largest hotels, Four Points Hotel and Ramada Inn Convention Center, and one of the smaller ones, the Super 8 Motel.

"It's safe to say that if they didn't think it was a good investment, we wouldn't be traveling this much," Hart said.

About 60 percent of the bureau's 1999 budget of $703,000 comes from the county's motel-hotel room tax. A 3 percent tax on all room sales is collected by the county, which keeps 5 percent of that revenue and turns the rest over to the bureau, Hart said.

Richard Trump, president of the bureau's board of directors, said the trips are necessary.

"We invest money to get a return back," he said. "We're seeing very good results."

For example, 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 3,300 people expected, it could pump more than $3 million into the community and fill as many as 1,800 hotel rooms, Hart said.

Also, Washington County is the tentative location for conventions of the Region 22 Lions Club in 2002, 2006 and 2007. Up to 2,000 delegates are expected to attend from Maryland, Delaware and Washington, D.C. They would inject about $1 million to $2 million into the local economy each year, Hart told the County Commissioners recently.

Ramada Inn General Manager Jim Kell, who is also on the bureau's board, said going to travel events and trade shows is a good way to bring people to the county.

"Nobody likes paying the tax, but I'd say the tax is a good investment," he said.

How much staff members travel depends on the philosophy of each tourism office, Hart said. Frederick County's tourism council, for example, will spend less than $14,000 traveling to trade shows, according to John Fieseler, executive director of the Frederick County tourism council. But Frederick County doesn't seek out much convention trade since it gets plenty of tourism without it, he said.

Hagerstown was the fourth most popular destination in Maryland in 1997, according to the Maryland Office of Tourism Development. Only Baltimore, Ocean City and Annapolis attracted more tourists, the office said.

The Ocean City, Md., tourism department has budgeted about $75,000 to send representatives to trade shows, according to town spokeswoman Donna Abbott.

"The Town of Ocean City is a major tourist destination, and we want to protect that status," she said.

Staff Writer Scott Butki contributed to this story.

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