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A good year for tourism in Washington County

December 06, 2007|By TOM RIFORD / Special to The Herald-Mail

On Wednesday, the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau had its annual membership meeting. 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.

A new tourism economic-impact report from Global Insight was accepted by the State of Maryland and the CVB. According to the report, during calendar year 2006, visitors spent more than $250 million in our county. This was a healthy increase of more than 5 percent from the year before. Last year, the state reported that visitors spent $237.7 million in Washington County. Tourism in Maryland is an $11 billion industry, and has increased during the last four years.

Also according to the report, about 2.08 million visitors came to the county, vs. 1.9 million reported by the state the year before. These visitors came to events, saw our attractions, our parks and our museums.

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According to the State of Maryland, tourism is one of Washington County's largest industries, and employs more than 6,000 people in our county in the leisure and hospitality classification. This is about 10 percent of our county's workforce, and more than 10 percent of the private sector employment. Statistically, Washington County ranks sixth in the state in the leisure and hospitality sector employment.

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

Hotel occupancy in 2007 was somewhat flat compared to the year before, with several great months (including October which was up about 5 percent, and October was the best month since mid-2005). We enjoyed seven months of more than 60 percent hotel occupancy, and during much of the year, our county's hotels performed better than our neighboring counties. This news is more significant, knowing that we have added a couple of new hotels to our inventory. Additional hotel rooms became available last month with the opening of the Homewood Suites by Hilton.

The county's lodging tax was up in 2007, compared to the year before. According to the County Treasurer's office, this revenue (paid for by tourists) increased by about $100,000.

Convention and group business held steady this year, with more than 20,000 volume-business hotel room nights booked by the CVB. 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 many network television projects that used hundreds 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 CVB partnered this year with more than 25 events, including the Western Maryland Blues Fest, AugustoberFest, Festival of Trees, National Pike Festival, the Miss Maryland Pageant, MSO events, Mummers' Parade, Independence Celebration at Antietam, Annual Memorial Illumination, Boonsboro Days, Williamsport Days, South Mountain Battlefield events, the JFK 50-Mile, the Trains of Christmas, the Chili Cook-off and Music Festival, the Hancock Barge Bash, and more.

Marketing and publicity has increased this year. The CVB has spent more money on advertising (up 55 percent this year compared to last) and the CVB exhibited at more regional and national trade shows ? 21 this year! Our mailing of our visitors guides and other material has doubled in volume this year compared to 2006.

The CVB's web site greatly increased in the number of unique visits during 2007. We produced more marketing collateral material this year than ever before, including several new brochures and guides.

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.

Tom Riford is president and chief executive officer of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau. He can be reached at 301-791-3246. His column appears monthly. The CVB's Web site is www.marylandmemories.com

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