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Washington County enjoyed another banner year for tourism

December 08, 2006|by TOM RIFORD

Special to The Daily Mail

This week, the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau had its Annual Membership Meeting. By many areas of measurement, 2006 was a great year for tourism. On behalf of the Board of Directors and the professional staff of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, it can be reported that the tourism industry is healthy in Washington County.

One of Washington County's largest industries, tourism employs more than 5,700 people in our county in the leisure and hospitality classification. This is about 10 percent of our county's workforce. When you additionally think about the numbers of jobs that are supported by out-of-town visitors, especially in the retail sector, tourism is even more important.

A new tourism economic-impact report from Global Insight was accepted by the State of Maryland and the CVB. According to the report, during fiscal year 2006, visitors spent more than $237 million dollars here in our county. This is a significantly larger number than what Travel Industries of America reported on behalf of the State of Maryland last year ($187.7 million). Tourism in Maryland is a $10.7 billion industry, and has increased during the last three years.

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Also according to the report, about 1.9 million visitors came to Washington County, versus 1.3 million reported by the state the year before. These visitors came to events, saw our attractions, our parks and our museums. They saw the Hagerstown Suns play, and/or they visited the Rural Heritage Museum, the Christian Heritage Museum, Discovery Station, or any of the other 35 museums and historic sites in our county.

They may have visited Antietam National Battlefield, or one of our four other national parks that are here or our eight state parks. They came to Fort Frederick during its 250th anniversary, or they visited the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts during this 75th anniversary year, or they enjoyed the Maryland Symphony Orchestra during its 25th anniversary year. Visitors flocked to the C&O Canal, listened to music in City Park, and browsed our downtowns. They shopped, and shopped, and shopped.

The Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau tracks hotel occupancy, along with visitation at our local attractions and parks.

Hotel occupancy in 2006 was actually "flat," compared to the record year of 2005. We enjoyed six months of more than 65 percent hotel occupancy. However, our local hotels saw a positive year for revenues, up 5 percent compared to the year before. We did see some additional hotel rooms open during 2006 (including the new rooms at the Hampton Inn on Interstate 81, the new cabins at Jellystone, and don't forget that the new SpringHill Suites by Marriott opens this month).

Additionally, the county's lodging tax was up in FY-2006, compared to the year before. According to the County Treasurer's office, this revenue (paid for by tourists) increased by about $100,000.

There are more hotel rooms this year than last year, so our occupancy and revenue increase is significant. There are three more new hotel projects in progress, including the planned Homewood Suites by Hilton that will be open in 2007.

Many people know that we have more hotel rooms now than Frederick County, but we still need more to meet the demand.

Convention and group business held steady this year, and last year it was up 19 percent over the year before. Groups and conventions want to come here, and frequently have to look elsewhere because we don't have enough rooms and/or space. We had several regional and state conventions in Washington County this year, and several TV and movie projects that utilized thousands of hotel rooms.

All this means a lot of money flowing through our economy, jobs being created and maintained, and good investment in our municipalities.

The Convention and Visitors Bureau had several successes this year. One main success is that the CVB continues to be debt-free, and that the organization has a solid cash reserve.

There are more members of the CVB today than ever before, the organization added 36 members and has 271 members. These include hotels, restaurants, stores, businesses, organizations, and individuals and they all agree in the mission of promoting Washington County to attract visitors, and the money those visitors spend.

The CVB partnered this year with more than 25 events, including the Western Maryland Blues Fest, AugustoberFest, Festival of Trees, National Pike Festival, the Nutcracker, the Miss Maryland Pageant, MSO events, Mummers' Parade, Independence Celebration at Antietam, Annual Memorial Illumination, Boonsboro Days, Williamsport Days, South Mountain Battlefield events, the Trains of Christmas, the Chili Cookoff and Music Festival, the Hancock Barge Bash, and many more.

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