Visit Howard County is charged to lead the marketing of Howard County as a great visitor and meeting destination. Visitor spending not only impacts hotels, restaurants, retailers and transportation businesses, but also helps to underwrite the area’s arts and cultural assets.
As the official destination marketing organization for the county, Visit Howard County is the first and foremost source of information for people who want to know more about where to go and what to see and do there.
As an advocate for the tourism industry, the organization offers exclusive benefits to individuals and businesses interested in capturing a greater market share of the $653 million tourism generates. Currently, more than 300 area businesses are enrolled in Visit Howard County’s Membership Program.
The Development, Sales and Marketing teams serve as front-line resources to Howard County-based businesses. These resources include in-house promotional efforts, trade show attendance, cooperative marketing opportunities, professional development programs, creative asset libraries, web and print listing consulting, consumer research and even event assistance through a new tourism grant program. By taking advantage of the benefits offered, members extend their reach both regionally and locally.
Sales efforts include working closely with hoteliers and group tour attraction members to bring business to their establishments. Visit Howard County holds regular meetings for hotels to discuss opportunities, industry trends and developments. Representatives regularly attend trade shows and networking events throughout the year targeting key markets such as sports, youth and associations.
Selling points include Howard County’s convenient location and airport access, amenities and open space, attractions and affordability. Visit Howard County’s support for groups coming to the area include providing area information and connecting groups with lodging, dining, entertainment, etc. Such support builds rapport and increases the chances of repeat business.
Cooperative marketing opportunities allow members to purchase advertising at discounted rates and participate in promotions like the summer and winter Howard County Restaurant Weeks. Advertising outlets have included Facebook, the Washington Post, iHeartRadio and AAA World, Destination Maryland and e-blasts through Destination DC. Visit Howard County hosts media tours throughout the year where members may be selected to entertain writers and media influencers. Media wins have landed the county in nationally-recognized publications such as The Huffington Post, Men’s Journal, Cosmopolitan and Getaway Mavens. The organization also hosted a series of roundtable discussions for members who shared their insights and fresh ideas for future co-op opportunities.
Visit Howard County regularly hosts professional development workshops designed to help tourism industry businesses capture a greater market share of the millions of dollars tourism generates; members receive discounted registration to educational opportunities. Recent topics included media relations, social media and sales. Future topics under consideration include customer care, retail best practices and digital marketing for small businesses.
As part of its emphasis on a resource-driven membership model, Visit Howard County introduced a member extranet that interfaces with the VisitHowardCounty.com website. The technology allows members to update their public information, receive requests for proposals and service requests, submit items to the events calendar, update web listings and images, update print listings, opt into cooperative opportunities and access research and media contacts.
Visit Howard County historically has supported events and festivals with in-kind marketing, and in some cases, financial assistance. Examples include Historic Savage Mill’s bicentennial celebration in 2016; Ellicott City’s grand re-opening after the devastating July 30, 2016, flood; Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival; Symphony of Lights; Books in Bloom; and others.
In an effort to bring even more events to Howard County over the coming years, Visit Howard County recently launched a new Tourism Grant Program. The program is designed to cultivate events that draw attendees to Howard County and engage residents through marketing and other support.
Member outreach is very important to the organization; member visits are a great opportunity for the Visit Howard County team to familiarize with members’ businesses and add to its knowledge base of all there is to see and do in the county. Likewise members receive a thorough in-person presentation of all the organization has to offer and an extranet tutorial.
In 2016 Visit Howard County lowered its annual dues to $50 to make its services more accessible to all county businesses. Anthony Cordo, executive director for Visit Howard County, said, “By empowering this community to work together, get engaged and remain informed, Visit Howard County is able to promote our community and provide for an improved tourist and resident experience.” This new membership structure led to a 53% increase in membership in 2017. Visit Howard County is serious about continuing its focus on building value for its members through adding new opportunities.
Amanda Hof is director of tourism development for Visit Howard County. She can be reached at 410-313-1904 or Amanda@howardcountytourism.com.