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Tourism strong, Riford says

May 16, 2007

Tom Riford, CEO of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, recently told the Board of County Commissioners that the tourism industry is strong in Washington County.

"Our local hotels maintained a strong occupancy pace in 2006, and revenues for hotels were up," Riford said at the May 8 meeting. "Visitation to local attractions increased in 2006."

Nearly 6,000 people work in the tourism sector, according to state statistics of Washington County's Leisure and Hospitality classification. The state tourism office reports that during the last fiscal year, 1.9 million visitors spent $237.7 million in Washington County, a significant increase over the previous year.

Riford said 2007 is shaping up to be a good year for tourism. He outlined some of the upcoming events, including the 145th anniversaries of the Civil War battles of South Mountain and Antietam, scheduled for Sept. 7 to 9.

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New projects, including a bike tours map and brochure, the new Visitors Guide, African American Heritage Guide, Museums Guide, calendar of events and other publications also were introduced. Riford also discussed the organization's commitment to increased advertising and marketing, and also the increased CVB sponsorships of local events, which he said help tourism and make a positive economic impact.

During the presentation of the CVB's financial audit, Riford reported that the agency's financial situation has improved during the last three years, and the CVB remained debt-free in 2006. Riford also said the organization has a cash reserve, as recommended by the County Commissioners. The CVB president reported that the organization receives half of the county lodging tax, which is paid by hotels, motels, bed-and-breakfast inns, and campgrounds with cabins that have running water and electricity. The lodging tax makes up about 85 percent of the CVB's annual budget.

Following the organization's bylaws, the CVB spends 70 percent of its budget on marketing and operations, and 30 percent on salaries and administration, including the rent for the Downtown Hagerstown Visitor Center and its administration office space.

The CVB is a 501 (c)(6) nonprofit organization with the mission of attracting visitors to Washington County.

Riford pointed out that May is Tourism Month, and May 12 to 20 is Maryland and National Tourism Week. New events, attractions and museums are working closely with the CVB, which has taken an active role in assisting local groups and their tourism marketing efforts.

The County Commissioners presented Riford and the CVB staff an official Washington County proclamation designating May 12 through 20 as Tourism Week in Washington County. Events happening during the week include the annual National Pike Festival and Wagon Train, set for this weekend. For more information, go to www.marylandmemories.com.

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