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County tourism numbers looking good so far this year

April 06, 2006|by TOM RIFORD

2006 is shaping up to be a great year for tourism. According to the independent Smith Travel Research Report (STR Report), occupancy is up at the hotels throughout Washington County. January and February showed an increase by 3 percent over the year before, while year-to-date revenue is up nearly 10 percent at our local hotels. This positive momentum is good news, and we are hoping for a terrific year for the tourism industry. Gas prices are said to be impacting tourism around the country, but here in Washington County - with a large metro-area population close by - higher gas prices may be helping us (people are seeing what's in their backyard, instead of driving farther distances).

Tourism is jobs and investment for our community. As many of you know, according to the State of Maryland's DLLR, there are about 6,000 people working in Washington County in the "Leisure and Hospitality" classification. The number of people employed in the tourism industry has increased over the past couple of years - but importantly (and this is also according to the State of Maryland) the amount of money spent by visitors has increased $187.7 million, whereas the year before was reported as $176.1 million. We know from our own county's statistics that visitation at area attractions have increased, and the amount of lodging tax collected by the county has increased. With three new hotels being built during the next two years, another hotel just finishing its additions and Jellystone Park undergoing a significant expansion, there will be even more visitor opportunities here in Washington County.

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2006/2007 Visitor Guide - The CVB has produced the new 2006/2007 Visitor Guide for Hagerstown-Washington County. We have a few copies from the designer and printer already - but soon, box loads will begin arriving. Each year, the totally new and updated visitor guide is distributed all over the Mid-Atlantic and beyond. More than 120,000 copies are run off in the first printing, and this high-quality, glossy guide always attracts attention and positive comments. We mail out tens of thousands of these guides to people who request information from us, through our Web site, and through our regional and national advertising. The Visitor Guide is for the individual or family interested in Hagerstown-Washington County - it's a wealth of information, and sought out by both residents and tourists.

The new 2006/2007 Visitor Guide for Hagerstown-Washington County was designed by Hagerstown Magazine. I think you'll agree that this year's guide has some great information, and terrific photography. This year's guide may be the best ever!

Destination Planning Guide - Also new to report is that the CVB has produced a beautiful new Destination Planning Guide. The guide is geared toward groups considering Washington County, Maryland as a destination for meetings, conventions, or tours. The guide covers everything for planning a visit, from accommodations and dinning to attractions, recreation, shopping, and much more. It also features CVB members, attractions and amenities. PM2 Studios designed the Destination Planning Guide, and this new marketing piece has already been well-received.

Downtown Hagerstown Welcome Center - I was asked recently: What does the Hagerstown Visitor Welcome Center do? Well, last year our Visitor Center saw more than 12,000 people - and we provided everything from event information, tickets (like Blues Fest and Augustoberfest), maps, brochures, souvenirs, gifts, and more. We direct a lot of people who are visiting Washington County to local stores, restaurants, and attractions. New residents to our area also find a wealth of information there.

As an information center, we answer a lot of questions about Downtown Hagerstown - but we also provide information about the local parks, venues, and recreational opportunities. Someone once told us that the CVB's visitor center is the best place to help steer visiting relatives, friends and acquaintances to sites of interest! (I think the actual comment was: "Could you tell my visiting mother-in-law where to go?") We have many suggested itineraries for day trips and overnight excursions. We know out-of-the-way places to visit and we get some unusual requests, as well (someone asked us last week where the local nudist camp was they had heard Lou Scally talking about it on WJEJ). The Downtown Hagerstown Visitor Welcome Center is open six days per week all year long, and seven days per week from mid-April through October. If you haven't been there lately, stop in and see what we have to offer!

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