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Promoting the Promoter
How Supporting the Office of Tourism Impacts Your Business

February 2012

You would be shortsighted if you thought that supporting tourism in Harford County was not or should not be part of your business plan. Tourism is everybody’s business. Why? Because it is big business.

Tourism generated $13.1 billion in visitor spending in Maryland last year – $300 million in Harford County alone. When tourism is supported and promoted as part of the master plan for the county and at an individual business level, everyone wins. Tourism creates jobs and helps a community establish and maintain a diversified economy. It generates revenue that is invested back into the local coffers. And, it helps keep current taxes at reasonable levels.

Harford County. Love it!

With the Chesapeake Bay at its feet, climate conditions similar to Southern Italy and Greece, and the birthplace and epicenter of the nation within an hour’s commute north or south, Harford County is perfectly situated for greatness. Harford County has something to offer everyone – nature lovers, water babies, sommeliers, sports fans, history buffs, equestrian enthusiasts, and those who appreciate small town charm with city amenities. With such an expansive appeal and no dominant industry, the Harford County Office of Tourism and Manager Wini Roche have to paint a broad stroke trying to market the county effectively.

The office has adopted the tag line, “Harford County … Love it!” and launched the website, to promote the county’s many amenities. Roche posts whimsical videos of herself as she travels the county featuring different points of interest. There is a monthly eNewsletter with timely announcements of activities and a comprehensive visitors guide that is printed and made available annually. The office is also utilizing social media to its fullest with a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a YouTube page and interactive kiosks dotted around the county.

A Growing Sports Destination

Charles Johnson of C.H. Johnson Consulting, Inc., a firm that specializes in advising communities of their potential convention and sports opportunities, described Harford County as a “heaven between two points of chaos” referencing Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Johnson was commissioned to conduct a destination study and gave a presentation in January to the Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) of the Office of Economic Development for Harford County outlining his preliminary findings. Johnson pointed to several areas of growth opportunity including positioning Harford County as a sports destination. Describing the Ripken complex in Aberdeen as the “gold standard” that other communities would love to emulate, he added, “You have Cal Ripken with the cleanest reputation in baseball doing everything right up there.” Sports Destination Management magazine named the Ripken Stadium and the Aberdeen complex as one of North America’s Finest Sports Facilities in their November/December 2011 issue.

Cedar Lane Regional Park, located just five minutes off I-95 on Route 136, is another Harford County sports venue that is showing great promise. The 110-acre outdoor multi-sport facility will be the official home to the new Baltimore Bohemians, or Bohs for short, a United Soccer League Team making its debut this spring. Improvements to Cedar Lane have already begun in preparation for the Bohs’ arrival as well as addressing prior deficits like lack of adequate seating, locker rooms and picnic pavilions. While admiring the concept of Cedar Lane Regional Park and its proposed improvements, Johnson cautioned that the county needs to work to a “set of higher standards” to remain competitive in the world of youth and adult sports.

The lure of the sports destination and tourism business, especially youth sports, is what is referred to as VFRs – visiting friends and relatives. When a tournament or game is played, it not only attracts the participant, but in the case of youth, it means the parents, siblings, grandparents, and other supportive friends and enthusiastic relatives are coming, too. Each of those additional bodies needs a place to sleep, eat, freshen up, or in the case of supportive but not enthusiastic tagalongs, places to shop, sightsee, and spend their money and their time. According to the National Association of Sports Commissions (NASC), American families spent an estimated $7 billion traveling with their children to youth sports tournaments last year. It was one of the only growth areas in a down economy, showing a 4 percent increase annually.

Roche has been working with Terry Hasseltine, director of the Maryland sports marketing office, to develop initiatives that would attract such tournaments. One success was the announcement that Cedar Lane will be hosting the 2013 and 2014 U.S. Youth Soccer Region I championship. Approximately 3,500-4,000 youngsters, ages 12-19 will participate, and when you add expected family, nearly 15,000 room nights of lodging are anticipated each year. In a press release, Harford County Executive David R. Craig stated, “This is a major achievement for the people of Harford County. The soccer tournament should bring thousands of visitors to Harford County and more than $20 million in revenue to the area during the two years the tournament will be hosted at Cedar Lane Park.”

In addition to the Ripken and Cedar Lane campuses, Johnson’s study indicates that Harford County needs and could support a dedicated indoor facility to complement the two outdoor venues. This would provide space for sports like volleyball, basketball, and indoor lacrosse and soccer. Nevertheless, what Harford County needs the most to support and succeed in its tourism efforts, Johnson concluded, was a dedicated revenue source to fund its efforts.

Dedicated Revenue Source

Harford County is a top-10 Maryland county for generating tourism revenue, but ranks 22nd in the State for tourism promotion budget. With a 9 percent growth rate in fiscal year 2011, Harford County received a Governor’s citation recognizing its increase in tourism revenue to the State. But with national competition increasing and the county poised to claim its share, the need for a dedicated revenue source is more important than ever.

Harford County is the only county in Maryland without a hotel or lodging tax. The tax is already supported by the majority of stakeholders in the county, and Johnson’s study highlights it as the ideal way to properly fund the tourism efforts necessary to keep Harford County positioned for success. The burden of this fee is on the visitor, but the benefit is to residents and businesses in Harford County. When earmarked for tourism, every dollar generated would be spent to further promote Harford County attractions, restaurants, sports venues, town events, lodging and retail shops across the county, keeping the county’s 2,800 hotel rooms occupied. According to a special report by The Maryland Association of Destination Marketing Organizations, neighboring Cecil County added $331,540 and Baltimore County added $7,015,302 to their county budgets from room fees.

Hotel owners, town and county officials, the Chamber of Commerce and others are supporting the initiative to help pass legislation to enact the hotel tax. Momentum is growing and local representatives are working in Annapolis to make it happen.

For more information on how you can help, contact the Office of Economic Development at I95