by Christine Hansen for MDBizMedia
Ocean City, Maryland is one of the state's premier vacation spots.
The month of May kicks off the start of summer travel and vacations, and with that means billions of dollars being spent. A May 2010 Harris Poll found that 66 percent of Americans planned to take a summer vacation in 2010, and travel experts say that despite rising gas prices, more Americans are willing to travel this year than previous years.
This week marks National Tourism Week, a national recognition that promotes the power of travel. For many states, tourism is a major factor in its economic health. According to the U.S. Travel Association, travel and tourism is one of America’s largest industries, generating $1.8 trillion in economic output.
The same is true on the state level – travel and tourism is one of the largest economic drivers for a state and plays a significant role in the state’s economic health. Visitors to Maryland spend billions of dollars at hotels, restaurants and attractions, help support jobs and save taxpayers money.
Economic data for calendar year 2010 is due out soon, but in calendar year 2009, 29 million visitors came to Maryland, spending $13.6 billion at hotels, restaurants and attractions, generating approximately $1.6 billion in state and local taxes, and supporting 134,000 jobs for Marylanders. Maryland has seen a 15 percent growth since 2007, outperforming national and international travel trends.
“Maryland’s tourism industry is showing solid signs of recovery. Tourism industry tax collections statewide are up 9 percent from last year; they are growing twice as fast as all other sales taxes,” Margot Amelia, Executive Director of the Maryland Office of Tourism Development said.
A young girl enjoys the activities at Baltimore's Inner Harbor.
With approximately 20.4 million visitors a year, Baltimore City is the number one attraction in Maryland. Baltimore City’s Inner Harbor is the most well-known attraction in the State after the Chesapeake Bay, housing attractions like the National Aquarium, Harborplace, and the Maryland Science Center. The development of Harbor East has expanded the attractions for Inner Harbor visitors, with more shops and restaurants to visit.
The National Aquarium in Baltimore has been attracting visitors to Baltimore since 1981.
Since its opening in 1981, the National Aquarium has attracted an average of 1.5 million visitors per year. The Aquarium showcases a number of exhibits, featuring more than 16,500 animals from land and sea. It will be celebrating its 30th anniversary this August, adding to its already long list of events and attractions.
“For thirty years, we really have been an active part of the tourism scene and we feel like we have done everything we could to contribute to the attractiveness and tourism community in Baltimore and in Maryland,” Kathleen Sher, Deputy Director of External Affairs for the Aquarium said.
“During our peak season – June, July and August – about 70 percent of visitors are coming from out of state,” she said.
Sher says the Aquarium contributes approximately $160 million tourism dollars a year to the State.
Ocean City, the second most popular tourist place in Maryland, sees 8 million visitors a year, with most coming in the summer months. The beach town is home to 193 restaurants, 15 golf courses, and a three-mile boardwalk.
Ocean City has been selected to host this year’s Dew Tour, which will be held July 21-24. The event will be televised nationally and will bring in hoards of elite skateboarders and BMX bikers. The beach town is also home to the White Marlin Open, the world’s largest fishing tournament. This year, the tournament takes place August 8 through 12.
As head of the State Tourism Development Board, Greg Shockley, owner of Shenanigans Irish Pub in Ocean City, says that even with a slow economy, people are willing to travel.
Ocean City's Boardwalk draws in 8 million visitors a year.
“I have been on the Boardwalk for 24 years now and I have seen a lot of things change. People used to come here for a week or two weeks, and would book their next year’s vacation before leaving. But now it’s a bit more fluid, people are booking three to four days at a time,” Shockley said.
Maryland has bucked trends and has continued to see increases in tourism dollars, despite tough times, and experts say that there is a “pent-up need for travel after a rough economy in 2008 and 2009.” In its most recent issue, Advertising Age reported that 95% of people still planned to travel as much or more in 2011 as they did in 2010.
“People are looking for deals, and are very conscious of price. In the past three years, we have seen that people will still vacation no matter how bad the economy is. They may knock a day out of their stay or spend less on dining, but they are still going on vacations,” Shockley said.
The latest edition of Destination Maryland, Maryland’s official guide to travel in the State, features hundreds of things to do in Maryland. Free copies of the book, as well as discount cards, can be ordered online at www.visitmaryland.org or by calling 1-877-333-4455.