Tourism is a vital industry to Howard County’s economic health and the well-being of its citizens. The strong tourism scene in Howard County supports a vibrant quality of life in the form of historic towns, opportunities for outdoor recreation, local dining, signature festivals and cultural happenings. Many of these tourism offerings are made possible by partnerships in the business and local community and through the support of Howard County Government, Executive’s Office and County Council.
Howard County Tourism & Promotion’s (HCTP) board of directors, composed of business and community leaders, together with the travel professionals on the Tourism Team, are selling and promoting Howard County forward as a destination and smart choice for leisure and sports travelers. HCTP works with its promotional partners, county government and the Maryland Office of Tourism Development to be an active part of increasing tourism expenditures for the benefit of the state and county and its citizens.
In the most recent 2014 numbers from Tourism Economics, Howard County experienced a total direct consumer tax impact of $22.5 million in designated tourism taxes. The hospitality industry, including lodging, dining, arts and attractions in Howard County, employs 10,000 people, a significant share of the state’s 140,000 tourism employees.
According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, those Howard County employees are taking home a gross compensation of $449.4 million, leading to further tax revenue and spending down the consumer chain.
Hotels completed fiscal year (FY)2016 with an average 0.8% increase in revenue per available room (RevPar). Average RevPar hit $63.12 in large part due to a strong market in early FY16. Stimulating upward pressure on RevPar will remain a priority into future years.
Howard County, Maryland, is ideally located to capture primary market access from more than 25% of the population base in the nation, with excellent transportation choices by air, rail and roads. The primary Howard County Tourism market is generally described as the 200-mile radius from the geographic center of the county, but principally within the mid-Atlantic states and District of Columbia.
Signature destination events, outdoor recreation, outdoor concerts and upscale shopping are important products to these customers. While escaping urban areas and visiting friends and family are major motivations, HCTP firmly believes there is continued potential to convert day-trippers to weekenders by cross-promoting events and attractions.
A secondary marketing effort is focused on Howard County residents, making them aware of the many sites and events available within their county. Howard County has been recognized by the U.S. Census Bureau for having a very high household income in the nation, and its residents are some of the most educated in the state. The Tourism Council must attract visitors from all over the mid-Atlantic while ensuring its affluent and educated residents support local tourism events and attractions.
A diverse focus on marketing in FY16 led to widespread exposure of Howard County as a destination. Many of these purchases were made possible by the Maryland Tourism Development Board grant program. The various media campaigns highlight Howard County’s unique attractions and businesses to the niche audiences of niche publications.
Examples of media success include the search engine marketing increasing in effectiveness, driving 11,665 qualified visitors to the website. A partnership with Miles Media and Destination DC focusing on Howard County’s festival season reached 32,260 people. Overall website traffic reached new highs for a total of 154,077 users viewing 515,054 pages.
The Tourism Team again succeeded in attracting positive media attention. These media successes are the result of its dedication to continuously craft a unique message for each event and cultivate trusting relationships with journalists and broadcasters.
An example of the positive media attention is “Three Best Maryland Towns,” an article published in the Huffington Post. The public relations value of these media hits translates into thousands of dollars of free advertising. HCTP’s ongoing partnership with CRUSA (Capitol Region USA), Visit Baltimore, Destination DC and the Maryland Office of Tourism resulted in several traditional media and blogger familiarization tour visits.
Good weather, clever marketing, social shopping promos and online ticketing continues to bring successes to “Ye Haunted History of Olde Ellicott City” ghost tours, parts I & II, and “Spirits of Ellicott City.” These tours brought more than 1,600 guests to Ellicott City in the last year.
The elementary school heritage tours bring hundreds of third-graders to Ellicott City and Howard County each school year.
In FY 2016, more than 35,000 persons (from 50 states, 27 countries and all three U.S. territories) visited the Howard County Welcome Center in Historic Ellicott City. Art exhibits in the Welcome Center included the annual Ellicott City Photo Contest sponsored by the Ellicott City Partnership, and the annual display of plein air paintings from Paint It! Ellicott City.
With funding from the Ellicott City Partnership and private donors, the New Deal era murals in the Welcome Center were restored this winter, removing decades of soot, smoke and sun damage. Tourism’s pop-up tent “Welcome Center On The Go” allows the team and partners to meet-and-greet visitors at major events in Howard County like the Howard County Fair and Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival.
With the Maryland Office of Tourism marketing grant funding and cooperative booth sharing with Destination DC and Howard County hotels, HCTP was able to stretch its marketing dollars with US Travel Association’s IPW and other tradeshows. HCTP meets every other month with hoteliers and other businesses interested in group sales.
Tourism was especially delighted with events like Wine in the Woods, the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival, Elite Tournaments Memorial Day event, the Columbia Triathlon and the National High School Lacrosse Showcase, which resulted in serious bookings for Howard County.
Howard County Tourism coordinates two annual Restaurant Weeks, promotions that tap into the strength of Howard County’s culinary scene. These events are promoted as a way for visitors and residents to explore the restaurants in Howard County, where the venues are providing their best meals at fixed prices.
Summer Restaurant Weeks introduced Garden to Glass Cocktails, a popular new take on the farm-to-table movement. Partner restaurants showcased drinks that were made from local produce and spirits.
Despite snowstorm Jonas closing most restaurants down for the second weekend of the winter Restaurant Weeks, it was a great event with a strong finish. Howard County Tourism helped 29 restaurants by extending the event one week and got the word out via social media. The winter Restaurant Weeks also featured a collaboration with the Howard County Chamber of Commerce on a Dine Snap Share & Win contest.
The popularity of this promotion shows in the success of the marketing: HowardCountyRestaurantWeek.com saw 181,861 page views, and Restaurant Weeks social media generated 75,000-plus impressions.
Other ongoing seasonal promotions included the popular “Holiday Happiness in Howard County Merryland,” and summer “The Arts Al Fresco,” each highlighting HCTP’s marketing partners’ events, activities and attractions. New in FY16 was the “Howard on Tap” app to brand Howard County as Maryland’s best brewery destination.
Pink Plates, a collaboration with the Blossoms of Hope organization, raised nearly $10,000 in support of the Claudia Mayer/Tina Broccolino Cancer Resource Center. During the holidays, the Tourism Team helped facilitate Savage Mill’s Bridge Lighting and hosted the Ellicott City Tree Lighting.
In March it hosted a Howard County Young Professionals event with more than 100 attendees to kick off publication of the 2016 Howard County Visitors and Residents Guide. In spring, HCTP hosted the Great Golf Giveaway, encouraging overnight golf trips.
Award-Winning Visitor Guide & Website Expand
In January, HCTP again partnered with Custom Media Options to publish its award-winning “The Official Visitor & Residents Guide to Howard County.” The Tourism Team authored editorial, coupled with vivid photos, showed off Howard County’s charming historic districts and modern amenities while celebrating the county’s nationally recognized high quality of life.
Recognizing the age of the existing website, staff began the hard work of identifying and working with a digital marketing firm to deploy a mobile-centric website.
Tourism takes an active role in promoting county sporting events that generate significant overnights in Howard County by out-of-state athletes. Additionally, it also supports the activities of Elite Tournaments that produce and host many weekend soccer tournaments in Howard County.
HCTP is an official partner in Team Maryland that worked TEAMs, the nation’s largest sports marketing tradeshow, letting sports event planners know that “Maryland Is Here to Play!”
Howard County Tourism & Promotion is recognized by Howard County Government and the Maryland Office of Tourism Development as the official Destination Marketing Organization for the county. As a not-for-profit, membership-based organization, HCTP represents more than 200 promotional partners across Howard County, mostly independent businesses.
Together, their mission is to increase, develop and promote tourism in Howard County by featuring the county’s unique location, sites, services, products and people. In FY2016, long-time Tourism Team member Amanda Hof transitioned into a new position, director of community development, to work one-on-one with tourism businesses to identify and cultivate new tourism attractions and assets for Howard County.
— Anthony Cordo
Howard County Tourism Council