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The BWI Region: Poised for Growth

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Visit Annapolis & Anne Arundel County (VAAAC) promotes two distinctly different destinations to leisure and business travelers: Annapolis and the BWI region.

These two “destinations within a destination” give VAAAC’s sales team an advantage when courting meeting and event planners. They recommend Annapolis to event organizers looking for the charm of a historic downtown. By contrast, Anne Arundel County’s BWI/Arundel Mills region is extremely popular with planners whose clients require the convenience of easy access via air, train and interstate highways for their short-term meetings.

The ongoing expansion of Southwest Airlines’ service to BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport continues to fuel the growth potential of the region. Offering up to 227 departures a day from BWI to 62 cities, Southwest makes it affordable and easy for business travelers, sporting events promoters and cost-conscious vacationers to choose BWI Marshall and the BWI region as their pivot point.

Busy, Busy, Busy

Capitalizing on the fact that BWI Marshall is Southwest’s second busiest airport for departures, VAAAC has its sights set on major cities that enjoy nonstop Southwest service to the airport. In fiscal 2017, VAAAC will reach out to such markets as Chicago and Columbus, and its sales team will court Chicago-based meeting planners; its marketing team will initiate branding promotions in the Windy City; and VAAAC’s public relations and communications team will work to cultivate interest from Columbus- and Chicago-based news media.

VAAAC President and CEO Connie Del Signore said the strategy of focusing on cities with direct flights to BWI Marshall could pay off in a big way. As she sees it, “Attracting more travelers and more revenue from new and expanding markets helps ensure the economic stability of the region. The entire destination stands to benefit from the outreach.”

As a U.S. Travel Association board member, Del Signore meets regularly with peers from destination marketing organizations from across the country to explore strategies for growing the United States’ share of domestic and international vacation and business travel. The Project Time Off Committee, on which she serves, encourages individuals to take their vacation days, rather than forfeit them.

How best to use the hours? By traveling, of course.

Del Signore said Project Time Off provides destinations with a unique opportunity to tap into a growing market of consumers who are getting out of town like never before. As she sees it, “Visit Annapolis & Anne Arundel County is ready for them. Our destination has the natural beauty, the infrastructure, the attractions and the lifestyle vacationers are looking for — and we’re marketing [those attributes] to make sure they know it.”

Occupancy Up

Del Signore said hotel occupancies in the BWI Region and surrounding county are the highest she’s seen in her 13 years at the helm of VAAAC. According to the independent STR Inc. report (from April through June 2016), the average hotel occupancy rate in the BWI region hovered at around 83%. During the same period, room occupancy for the entire county averaged 80.7%.

It’s possible the VAAAC’s stand-alone TheHotelsAtBWI.com website contributed in part to the region’s impressive fourth quarter of fiscal 2016 occupancy rate. Officially launched in July 2015, the new site was years in the making; initially, the BWI area was one of three regions VAAAC marketed via its www.VisitAnnapolis.org website that launched in 2013. Shortly after the launch, VAAAC noticed steady traffic to the BWI section of the website.

Seeing this as an opportunity to grow visitation to the BWI region, VAAAC shared its findings and brainstormed the possibilities with its BWI partners. The discussions prompted VAAAC to create a vanity web address to begin branding the region as TheHotelsAtBWI.com in July 2014. The new address enabled VAAAC to directly market the accessibility of the region’s more than 35 hotels and attractions to consumers and meeting planners.

In that first year, from July 2014 to June 30, 2015, the vanity address had resulted in more than 23,000 visits to the BWI section of the www.VisitAnnapolis.org website.

The Next Step

The VAAAC took the next logical step by creating a stand-alone

TheHotelsAtBWI.com website in July 2015. The site attracted 4,200 visits in its first month compared to the 400 visits the vanity web address had received in July of the previous year. During the new website’s inaugural year that ended June 30, 2016, VAAAC tracked 44,678 visits to TheHotelsAtBWI.com.

Visitation to TheHotelsAtBWI.com website is expected to show steady growth in the years ahead as construction of an upscale 300-suite hotel and conference center at Maryland Live Casino and a hotel at BWI Thurgood Marshall is being built to satisfy the growing needs of tomorrow’s vacationers and business travelers.

“As Southwest service to BWI continues to grow and BWI’s international service continues to climb,” said Del Signore, “VAAAC and its partners are poised to welcome and wow an ever-increasing number of visitors in the years ahead.”