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Q&A With Maryland Office of Tourism Development Executive Director Liz Fitzsimmons

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Being named executive director of the Office of Tourism Development (OTD) for the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED) two months ago was a logical career progression for Liz Fitzsimmons, who has been an employee of the department since 1993.

Fitzsimmons was named to the post after serving as the assistant director of OTD’s advertising and communications department, where she led teams of advertising, communications, tourism development, sales and interactive services professionals in the effort to promote the state as a desirable travel destination.

She started her career in Austin, Texas, as the on-air director and audio engineer at KTBC-TV before moving into destination promotion with Downtown Austin Partners. After a move to Maryland, her career highlights have included managerial positions at retail destinations Market Center and the Brokerage in downtown Baltimore, and serving as public relations manager for the Pride of Baltimore II as it sailed to Northern Europe and Russia.

Fitzsimmons earned her bachelor of science in Radio and TV/Mass Communications from Southern Illinois University. In 2011 she was named Maryland Tourism Person of the Year at the Maryland Travel & Tourism Summit.

How much did the state invest in OTD’s new ad campaign, “Satisfy Your Five Senses,” where is it being targeted, and how is the effort going so far?

The campaign was developed to showcase the variety of things to see, hear, touch, smell and taste in the state, and will be further extended through OTD-owned assets, such as welcome centers, social media, publications and web site. The campaign has been shown to Maryland’s marketing communities and has been received enthusiastically, and many of the county tourism offices are now working to incorporate the Five Senses theme and creative through their communications channels.

The campaign executions are modular, and images can be cost-effectively swapped out to extend the life of the campaign and to support specific marketing initiatives, such as culinary offerings, the Chesapeake Bay and outdoor recreation.

Production cost for the four television spots in the campaign was $289,310; the print and digital campaign runs within 400 miles of the state’s borders, with television spots running in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

What has changed about the way OTD does business since Larry Hogan was elected governor and named Michael Gill secretary of DBED?

Tourism continues to thrive in Maryland, thanks to the support of Gov. Larry Hogan and DBED Secretary Mike Gill. Our most recent data shows that Maryland welcomed more than 38 million domestic travelers in 2014, which is an increase of nearly 6% from 2013. We’re seeing growth in all segments: business and leisure, as well as day trips and overnights. Maryland has increased market share 11.8% since 2007, thus outperforming national and regional trends.

Gov. Hogan and Secretary Gill see tourism as a powerful economic engine in the state. Not only does the industry employ more than 138,500 Marylanders, but the impact of those visitors proves that our investments in visitor experiences and tourism marketing provide valuable returns to communities across our state.

What are you looking to do that wasn’t being done before?

We’re working with other content developers to amplify our marketing messages. We recently hosted OTD’s first Maryland Blogger Bash, which brought regional bloggers together with county destination marketing organizations (DMO) and business partners. The event was attended by dozens of digital influencers in the travel, culinary and parenting fields.

In addition to connecting with DMOs, the event showcased Maryland food and libations in partnerships with representatives of Maryland Wineries Association, Brewers Association of Maryland and Maryland Distillers Guild. Furthermore, OTD is exploring the feasibility of expanding the state’s marketing reach into Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Columbus.

What is your office’s budget?

OTD’s budget is $12.7 million for fiscal 2016, which began on July 1.

Let’s say that your department received a 5% budget increase next fiscal year. What would you do with the money?

OTD would work with its private and public sector partners to continue to promote Maryland as a great vacation destination and move beyond our traditional target markets.

What is most interesting about how your department promotes Howard County? And Anne Arundel County?

Both of these destinations offer travelers a wealth of amenities and options for leisure travel. The state follows the marketing lead of both counties.

Howard County is home to bountiful outdoor activities such as fishing, hiking and mountain biking. This attribute, plus the historic villages in the Columbia area, are attractive to visitors and residents. I enjoy the synergy of the technological side, promoting the growing craft beer movement of the HowardOnTap app.

Annapolis and Anne Arundel County have been welcoming visitors for centuries. The Chesapeake Bay is well-known for world-class sailing. And, the opportunities for outdoor recreation abound in Anne Arundel. The Maryland Office of Tourism will be on hand at the Annapolis Sailboat Show to showcase the state to those thousands of people that come to City Dock from Oct. 8–12. And the latest edition of Destination Maryland, the state’s official travel guide, features Thomas Point Lighthouse gracing the cover.

The Maryland Office of Tourism Media and Digital Communications Team works to secure third-party editorial coverage about Maryland as a travel destination. With the wealth and variety of travel options in The Business Monthly’s coverage area, the professionals at Annapolis & Anne Arundel County Conference & Visitors Bureau and Howard County Tourism are wonderful to work with in hosting these writers, editors and bloggers. They also provide great tips about their travel assets and work with their tourism providers in providing access to accommodations, attractions and restaurants.

How are you working with the growing craft brewery, wine and distilled spirit industries?

These micro-industries are inherent to the authentic experience that travelers are seeking. Many of these businesses hold special events, such as tastings, tours, pairing dinners and live musical performances, which factor into our traditional marketing efforts — which encompass web site listings, monthly event e-newsletters, weekly radio broadcasts and our online calendar of events.

How is your office promoting “agritourism”?

We promote products that are developed by the Department of Agriculture, including farmers markets, the Ice Cream Trail, horse trails and the special events held at local farms and vineyards. We extend the definition of agritourism to include watermen’s heritage tours and aqua-culture businesses, such as oyster farming, that are unique to the Chesapeake Bay.

Sports have elevated Maryland as a destination, for pros and amateurs. How does OTD partner with Maryland Sports?

The business of sports is serious business. From youth-related sports that fill up fields such as Covenant Park to Navy football, the spectators that come along to root for their teams are an important part of the tourism economy.

I had a friend recently complete the Iron Girl Triathlon and saw the considerable amount of spending by her family while they cheered her on. She came from Northern Virginia, as did a couple of her friends, to compete in this extraordinary event.

How is the OTD working to overcome the negative public relations after the recent civil unrest in Baltimore City?

We work with Visit Baltimore on our public relations efforts and as communications partners. We’re running television commercials through September, and these feature Orioles baseball and other iconic Baltimore destinations, among other Maryland images.

The Five Senses campaign is designed to inspire people to put Maryland into their intent to travel plans. When you see the commercials, the allure of Baltimore is an important selling point.

How does your involvement in Capital Region USA benefit the state?

Overseas visitors stay longer and spend more money in the Capital Region than visitors who come here from other regions of the USA. In 2014, a record 2.34 million overseas travelers visited the Capital Region USA (CRUSA), stayed an average of nine nights and spent a record $1.9 billion on hotels, meals, shopping, attractions and other goods and services across Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia. These overseas visitors helped to generate nearly 35,000 jobs throughout the Capital Region.

Recent trends show that Maryland visitation has risen 7.4%, and those visitors spend on average more than $450 — which is a 50% increase from 2102 figures.

The biggest opportunities are in working together to build upon successful marketing and promotional initiatives.