The much discussed and debated 2% increase in Howard County’s hotel tax passed the Maryland General Assembly’s 2011 session and was signed into law by Gov. Martin O’Malley, effectively doubling the budget for Howard County Tourism & Promotion. The increase is estimated to bring $1.2 million in new revenue, and will be split between Howard County Tourism & Promotion (HCTP) and the Howard County Economic Development Authority (HCEDA).
Both organizations will use the funds to help entice more out-of-town visitors and attract more corporate headquarters to the area.
Travel has a significant economic impact on Howard County businesses, who benefit from out-of-town guests spending approximately $1,000 each on local dining, shopping, lodging and sightseeing during their visits, resulting in $780 million in expenditures and totaling $13 million in tax receipts annually.
Sharon Baker, the long-time director of sales at Sheraton Columbia Town Center Hotel, testified in Annapolis in favor of the increase. “We at the Sheraton, Howard County’s largest hotel and headquarter hotel to almost every major county event, support HB700 Howard County – Hotel Tax Rate, divided and dedicated between Tourism and Economic Development Authority, to fund sales initiatives.
“Travel is essential to our economy. The tourism industry employs nearly 8 million Americans, 134,000 Marylanders and 10,000 Howard Countians. In these incredibly difficult economic times, our industry needs an extended arm at Tourism and the Economic Development Authority that can attract new headquarters, new conferences and new sporting events to the county. This funding is an investment in all of our futures and a very big part of the solution to the economic challenges that face Howard County and Maryland,” she said.
Peter Mangione, general manager of the Mangione family-owned Turf Valley in Ellicott City and a tourism board member, agreed with the move. “Nobody wants to raise taxes,” he said, but the new money would finally allow Tourism to “hire a sales staff to sell the county proactively.”
David Balderson, proprietor of the Wayside Inn who also traveled to Annapolis to testify, said, “As a former manager for McCormick Spice Company who traveled for business regularly for years, I can personally attest to the boon to local businesses when entertaining clients out-of-town or hosting regional meetings. As a proprietor of a B&B [bed-and-breakfast], our guests indulge in a weekend of nearby antiquing, golfing and attending festivals. Since these new funds from the hotel tax increase will be reinvested at Tourism and the [Economic Development] Authority, with positive results for the hospitality industry, I am here to express my full support.”
The Howard County Chamber of Commerce supported the bill because it provides additional funding to the tourism industry. “Although tax increases often create competitive disadvantages with regard to surrounding jurisdictions, we do not have such concerns with this bill,” Chamber President and CEO Pam Klahr said in a statement.
Additionally, because HB700 had the hospitality industry’s support from the onset, both the Maryland Tourism Council and the Maryland Hotel Lodging Association did not oppose the increase, since funds were dedicated to Tourism’s future sales and marketing initiatives.
“For years, Howard County’s bed tax has remained at a level below that of many of our neighboring jurisdictions,” noted County Executive Ken Ulman. “Those larger jurisdictions effectively use their tourism-related revenues to market their amenities and draw visitors … now Howard County will join those efforts.”
In recent years, tourism offices across the country have been shuttered and/or had their budgets slashed. In Howard County, however, elected officials, both locally and at the state level, have demonstrated their understanding of how important tourism and travel is to the overall health of our local economy and the health and well-being of its citizens.
The continued investment in Howard County Tourism & Promotion by both the former Robey and present Ulman administrations, along with the support of the county council, is to be applauded. Coupled with the ongoing efforts by the Howard County Delegation, especially Sen. Jim Robey and Del. Guy Guzzone, to bring scarce Bond Bill monies “home” for Tourism projects, indicates the depth of their commitment.
Rachelina Bonacci is executive director of Howard County Tourism. She can be reached at Rachelina@visithowardcounty.com.