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2006 a good year for tourism

2007 expected to be better

November 30, 1999|By TOM RIFORD/Special to The Daily Mail

2006 was a terrific year for tourism, and 2007 is predicted to be very strong for the leisure and hospitality industry. As reported last month, hotel occupancy was about the same as last year's record pace; importantly, local hotels reported a 5 percent increase in revenues. The outlook for 2007 for hotels is strong, with a new Homewood Suites by Hilton anticipating a late-spring opening. SpringHill Suites by Marriott opened last month, and is the first Marriott-flagged hotel in Western Maryland.

Camping and RV-ing were popular in Washington County during 2006. Area campgrounds reported a brisk year, with very healthy occupancy and sales revenues. Camper visits to private campgrounds were on par with 2005's record year. Meanwhile, area state parks with camping and tent sites reported a record number of visits. 2006 was one of the best year's ever for camping throughout South Mountain Recreation Area, with visits and occupancy higher than any year in recent memory. Nearly half a million visits were recorded at those five state parks. Additionally, revenues collected by the parks was the highest ever.

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Jellystone Park enjoyed growth, with the addition of 58 new RV sites and five luxury cabins. According to owner and manager Ron Vitkun, "Revenue was up over 2005, and with the recent addition of our water-slides and splash park, we expect next year will be even better." Vitkun predicted that 2007 will be a record year with a full season of availability for the new RV sites and cabins. "Combine this with a full season of Yogi Bear's Water Zone starting the second week of May through the second week of September, and we expect great things from 2007," Vitkun said.

Visits to museums, attractions, and state parks in general (separate to camping stays) were up in 2006 ? and this year is anticipated to be a great year for this market segment. For instance, several events will bring increased numbers of visitors in 2007 (including Maryland's first and premier unveiling of a Smithsonian Traveling Exhibit called "Key Ingredients" taking place at the Rural Heritage Museum, and the events surrounding the South Mountain/Antietam 145th Anniversary).

2006 was a strong year for retail shopping in Washington County. The top retail centers in Washington County reported gains in shopping visits. Valley Mall reported a continuation of last year's record-breaking year, with shopping visits increased about 1.5 percent and sales up 2 percent. Additionally, there were some individual stores which reported gains in sales revenues of more than 25 percent, and Valley Mall reported that sales of mall-wide gift cards increased 4 percent. More than 8.9 million shopping visits were reported at the mall during the past year. The mall anticipates a great new year, with new store opening in 2007 (shh ...we can't tell what it is, but it will be a great addition to the inventory of stores, and teens and young adults will love it!). It's good to see an Olive Garden is going to be built, too.

Prime Outlets, known as the single most visited destination in Washington County by out-of-county residents, enjoyed a more than 2 percent overall gain in shopping visits. Last year, the outlet and specialty store mall reported more than 4.5 million shopping visits. More than 100 outlet stores attract shoppers from throughout a two-and-a-half hour driving area. According to center officials, 80 percent of the shopping visits come from outside Washington County, and about half of those come from farther away than 50 miles. Several new stores opened during 2006, and according to Prime Outlets' management, there are new stores anticipated to open in 2007.

The Centre at Hagerstown reported a busy 2006, with occupancy of the shopping center at very healthy levels. In 2005, the center reported more than 5.8 million shopping visits. Officials say that 2006 was a terrific year for revenue for tenants at the Centre at Hagerstown. The center is 100 percent leased.

As is the case with other Hagerstown shopping centers, the Centre at Hagerstown is within seven miles in either direction of two separate states, and traffic comes along Interstate 81 from a wide area. According to surveys complied in prior years, at least 45 percent of the shopping visits to the center come from outside the county. As reported earlier, new stores are being constructed near the center by Uniwest. The new stores that have been announced include Best Buy and Starbucks. One of the most successful and busiest Wal-Marts in the region continues to perform well, and attracts shoppers from a wide area.

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