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Revenue shows tourism growth

January 29, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

The revenue from Washington County's lodging tax has increased by nearly 18 percent over the last six years, an indicator that more visitors are spending the night in the county, local tourism and economic development officials said.

Washington County ranked eighth in Maryland in the number of visitors in 2001, with 530,000 overnight trips made by tourists, business travelers and others, according to the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau's annual report.

The ranking does not include day trips to some of Washington County's big attractions, such as Prime Outlets of Hagerstown.

The 2001 statistics were the most recent figures on overnight trips in the report.

The report states the 530,000 overnight trips is a 57 percent increase over the number of trips made in 2000. The number of trips made in 2000 were not included in the report, and visitors bureau Chairman Ron Vitkun said he did not have the number available.

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Vitkun said he's pleased with the statistics, but that the bureau's goal is to continually increase the numbers.

"Can the (figures) be better? Absolutely," Vitkun said.

Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission Director Tim Troxell said the increase in visitors means more hotel-motel tax revenue for Washington County.

The 6 percent tax, also known as a lodging tax, is levied on the price of hotel rooms.

In 2003, the tax generated $529,400 for the county, up from $514,100 in 2002, according to the report.

The tax increased by $79,559, or 17.6 percent, between 1998 when the tax was enacted and 2003. In 1998, the charge generated $449,800, the report states.

"I think it's impressive that we've been able to see the total ... is increasing," Troxell said. "That shows we're getting more visitors. That's a real good sign for the area."

The average hotel room rate in Washington County is $60.30, up from $47.33 in 1997.

Vitkun recently told the Washington County Commissioners that the visitors bureau markets hotels along Interstate 81 to corporate travelers.

The county's top tourist attractions for 2003 include Antietam National Battlefield, with 278,423 visitors; C&O Canal, with 276,491 visitors; Fort Frederick, with 90,758 visitors; Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, with 75,730 visitors; and Washington Monument, with 60,250 visitors, according to the visitors bureau.

Vitkun said he thinks the number of visitors to the county will continue to increase once a new visitors bureau executive director begins work.

Vitkun said a search committee has chosen a person to be the new director, and it will present its recommendation to the visitors bureau board of directors today.

He said the new director is a local person who "loves Washington County" and whose work will benefit the county.

"I'm very, very excited," Vitkun said. "This person is going to do wonderful things. ..."

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