Harford County Tourism has been busily building a destination marketing program to attract people to the County. It’s like a shiny new race car at the starting block ready to rumble, but its fuel tank is already low. That tank can be easily filled with the passage of HB1395, which provides for a lodging tax in the County, enabling that shiny car to become a front runner in a race that contributes heavily to the area’s economic development.
This lodging tax would advance the County’s tourism business by allowing the industry to be self-funding. The tax would be paid not by residents of Harford County, but by people visiting the County from other areas. Harford County is the only county in Maryland that does not have a lodging tax, yet the potential for a robust tourism business that can bring growth and economic development to the area is huge.
Currently, tourism-related businesses support over 6,000 jobs in Harford County, and visitors spend over $300 million annually at local organizations. The Harford County office of Tourism is charged with reaching potential visitors and promoting local attractions and businesses. Every county in Maryland has a similar organization, and they all work with the Maryland Office of Tourism to promote the state’s assets. In fact, a recent study showed that the Maryland Office of Tourism’s 2011 Maryland of advertising campaign generated $182 million in incremental visitor spending and 1,804 new tourism jobs. One dollar spent on the campaign ads returned $221 in visitor spending, more than $31 in state and local revenue, and nearly $7 in state sales tax revenue.
Imagine what could be done in Harford County with a dedicated funding source from a lodging tax. The County has an undeniable opportunity to build both its tourism effort and its economic development effort. Simply, tourism is economic development. Already, over one million people a year visit Harford County. Sports and entertainment venues like Cedar Lane and Ripken Stadium make it more of a destination spot. Visitors to events at these facilities also dine in restaurants, shop on Main Streets and visit historic and cultural attractions. They are drawn to the waterfront, world-class golf, three state parks and unique farm activities – otherwise known as Ag Tourism. Harford County is a place people want to visit.
To continue to promote the benefits of tourism in Harford County, the Office of Tourism needs to have a “voice” in an incredibly noisy tourism marketplace. Harford County must be able to break out of the crowd with an effective destination marketing program. Businesses and hotels have committed to this program because they see the potential for both their own businesses and the County’s economy. The race car is buffed up and ready for fuel.
The hotel tax would be that fuel. Not only would the tax let the industry advance itself by investing the dollars it generates back into its own promotion, it would also move the funding of tourism promotion from Harford County tax payers and businesses to out-of-town visitors.
The business community and local citizens support this measure, including the Chamber of Commerce, The Route 40 Business Association, the Economic Development Advisory Board and the Tourism Advisory Board. There is no opposition to the legislation. The tourism community is clearly united in its support of this tax, and clearly in need of the funding. It is an opportunity to passively broaden a tax base. It is an opportunity to be in the race for positive economic growth.
Tourism Fast Facts:
• An estimated 1,555,170 people visited Harford County in 2012. Visitors spend more than $300 million at local businesses every year.
• Over 6,400 jobs in Harford County are supported by tourism, with 4,061 people directly employed in the industry. Approximately 98 percent of tourism businesses are small businesses.
• The Tourism Industry generated $10,896,037 in state and local tourism tax revenue in FY2012 – a five percent increase over FY2011. Harford County is the only county in Maryland that does not have a lodging tax.
• Every 256 visits generates enough state and local tax revenue to fund a public school student for one year.
Sources: Comptroller of Maryland, Harford Tourism – survey of local attractions; Tourism Economics Study on MD Counties