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Industry Perspective: Baltimore Tourism: Still Happening, Still Flourishing

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Fiscal 2015 was a roller-coaster year for Baltimore tourism. The city saw the largest tourism week in recent history in terms of hotel occupancy, visitation and media, thanks to September’s “trifecta” featuring the Star-Spangled Spectacular grand finale celebration and major hometown wins by the Baltimore Ravens and Baltimore Orioles.

The positive momentum continued into the New Year with the announcement that 2015 would be a record-setter for large conventions; the launch of a groundbreaking, three-city sales partnership — Synchronicities — to drive future business; and securing big conventions for future years.

Visit Baltimore, the official destination marketing organization for the city, also repackaged its sales and marketing message, unveiling a new advertising campaign to enhance the perception and raise awareness of Baltimore as a leisure and meetings destination. Entitled “My BMore,” the campaign calls on the authentic thoughts and experiences of some well-known friends and Baltimore fans, including Julie Bowen, Common, Mike Rowe and Josh Charles, to amplify its message in an ever-cluttered marketplace.

And then Visit Baltimore paused. The disturbing events and unrest of late April affected everyone in the community. It only made sense to suspend its work as a tourism sales and marketing organization and focus efforts on servicing the conventioneers, visitors and members who support and depend upon Baltimore’s tourism industry.

But, despite the wisdom in putting Visit Baltimore’s sales and marketing efforts on hold for the short term, it was equally sensible — and ever more important — to get back out there and tell the Baltimore story anew.

‘Hire One Youth’

The story of Baltimore is like the story of so many other major American cities. It has wonderful amenities, world-class restaurants and a diverse and interesting history and cultural heritage. Baltimore was, is and will remain a great city for visitors. It is also a city where not all of its residents are able to enjoy the fruits of those offerings.

That is why Visit Baltimore is committed to doing its part to open doors for Baltimore area youth within the hospitality community. Visit Baltimore has doubled its commitment to providing jobs through a program called “Hire One Youth,” which matches Baltimore city’s teens and young adults with paid, hands-on jobs this summer, and the organization is challenging local hotels, attractions and restaurants to do the same. It also is offering scholarships to support local students pursuing tourism-related degrees at regional institutions of higher learning through the Visit Baltimore Foundation.

The importance of a strong and healthy visitor industry is paramount. Tourism and meetings mean business, economic prosperity, and most important, jobs. Consider the 2014 numbers: Baltimore welcomed a record 24.5 million domestic visitors who generated $5.2 billion in visitor spending, contributing $649 million in state and local taxes; and hospitality and tourism-supported employment grew 2% to surpass 82,000 jobs.

Tourism is essential to a strong Baltimore, with ripple effects felt across the city, the region and the state. It’s the job of Visit Baltimore to ensure this remains the case by spreading the word that Baltimore is a great city with great assets: vibrant neighborhoods, a rich culture and history, world-class venues and inspiring people. Moving forward, the organization is committed to doing just that.

Summer Events

This summer, Baltimore welcomed 10 citywide conventions, including the National Sheriffs Association, the Ecological Society of America, the American Legion and International Association of Venue Managers. And, since late April, six conventions exceeded their attendance projections, with some achieving all-time record attendance.

The city celebrated the opening of three new hotels: the Hotel Ivy and Hotel Indigo in Mount Vernon and the Hotel RL downtown. It added to its growing list of multicultural conventions, securing the National Urban League’s 2016 Annual Conference, the NAACP’s 2017 Conference and the Black Shriners for 2019.

The year will conclude with Baltimore serving as host to the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) Expo! Expo!, providing a unique opportunity to showcase the destination to tradeshow and exhibition managers from around the world.

Light City Baltimore

And in 2016, the city looks forward to the launch of a new event that has the potential to transform Baltimore. Premiering March 28 and running through April 3, Light City Baltimore will become the first large-scale, international light festival of its kind in the United States. Light City is a seven-day celebration of ideas, ingenuity and creativity through original works of illuminated art, live music and an innovation conference called Light City U.

Artists will create and perform works that delight and entertain, as well as challenge, provoke thought and speak to the important issues of our time. Light City will shine a light on Baltimore’s abundance of creative, cutting-edge, multidisciplinary talent, as it welcomes participants from across the globe.

Light City’s innovative programming will generate an ecosystem of ideas and learning during the day, while lights, performances and live music re-imagine the Inner Harbor at night. Throughout the week, locals and visitors alike will celebrate the energy and spirit of Charm City.

Learn more about all the events taking place in Baltimore at www.baltimore.org.

Tom Noonan is president & CEO of Visit Baltimore, and can be reached at 410-659-7071.