Maryland tourism professionals from both the public and private sectors need to focus on convincing our fellow citizens and our elected officials on the merits of supporting tourism in Maryland. Making the case for Worcester County and Ocean City is particularly important given the fact tourism is the dominant industry in Worcester County and even most local “non-tourism” businesses and jobs are dependant on a successful tourism industry.
The obvious beauty of tourism for Worcester County residents is the financial impact that results from a three-month season: lower taxes, well funded schools, strong law enforcement, effective government services, a variety of recreation services and a wonderful quality of life. These are year-round benefits essentially paid for in three months.
Worcester County tourism is also a cash cow for the state government, as are the other larger tourism destinations in Maryland. However, in a move even Gov. Martin O’ Malley could not explain, the state legislature earmarked $600,000 from the state tourism budget to give to the Baltimore Zoo. That means this year a single entity that loses money, the Baltimore Zoo, will receive approximately three times more tourism funds from the state than Worcester County and Ocean City combined. That shows a lack of respect and lack of understanding.
The Baltimore Zoo may indeed be deserving of state funds, but the money certainly should not come from the state’s tourism budget. That money in the tourism budget was intended to promote Maryland as it competes with several neighboring states for travelers, and their expenditures, not subsidize operating losses of local attractions.
Worcester County is arguably the state’s truest and most vital tourism destination, providing leisure and memories to our visitors, and an abundance of tax revenue to our state and local government. No individual business can effectively market the destination. That needs to be done by the state, county and city working together to produce a consistent and adequately funded marketing plan.
The people who rely on tourism, and there are many, need to spread the word so our elected officials understand that supporting tourism with a plan and marketing funds is smart and good for the community. Tourism is an economic engine that deserves their attention and respect.
(The writer, a managing partner of the Carousel Hotel, is the former chairman of the Maryland Tourism Development Board.)