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Tourism leaders converge in OC to strategize for ‘15

(Nov. 21, 2014) More than 200 members of the state tourism industry gathered in Ocean City last week for the 34th annual Maryland Tourism and Travel Summit.

Kevin Atticks, new chair of the Maryland Tourism Coalition, speaks during the 34th annual Maryland Tourism and Travel Summit at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center on Wednesday, Nov. 12. (JOSH DAVIS / PHOTO)

Held at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center on Nov. 12-14, the summit is a three-day war room-style preparation for Tourism Day 2015, when tourism industry leaders lobby their legislative representatives in Annapolis.

“We’ve obviously got a big transition with the state government right now and tourism is a huge part of the state’s tax revenue,” Kevin Atticks, chair of the Maryland Tourism Coalition, said. “We to need to kind of gear up for the legislative session and for all-new agency heads and probably a new chairman in Annapolis, and make sure everything is in order so we can make the best case about tourism and the tax revenue we bring. The funding that state tourism gets from the state budget to market Maryland out of state is going to be tied to the administration and the new legislature as well.”

Past coalition Chairman Ross Peddicord said the conference helps bring industry personnel together in preparation.

“All the top tourism officials all over the state come here to network,” he said. “There’s a lot of education going on and a lot of great speakers.”

Although the state has an Office of Tourism Development, government agencies and employees cannot act as lobbyists. The coalition, however, doesn’t face such restrictions.

“This is the advocacy group for the tourism industry,” Peddicord said. “We’re the ones that lobby the legislators on behalf of the tourism industry, so it’s really important to be here, find out what’s important, find out all the trends, talk to all of these folks and get on the same page.”

Tourism is one of the top-10 industries in Maryland, producing more than 130,000 jobs. Ocean City, of course, is a major source of fuel in the state tourism engine.

“Ocean City is huge,” Atticks said. “You’ve got … a very diverse group and each area brings a different type of visitor, and once they’re here they’re eating, they’re sleeping, they’re fueling up, they’re continuing to support Maryland’s economy.”

“We’ve been to Ocean City many, many times,” Peddicord said. “People love coming here. This is tourism country down here.”

Another Worcester County town, Berlin, also became a big player in state tourism this year thanks to the “America’s Coolest Small Town” designation provided by Budget Travel magazine.

“Something like that is huge because it becomes a part of your brand,” coalition Vice Chair Wini Roche said. “I’m sure if you asked [Worcester County Tourism Director] Lisa Challenger she would be like, ‘It’s the best thing that happened during all of last year.’”

Peddicord said there were “Berlins all over Maryland.”

“We had 35 million tourists last year in Maryland,” he said. “About 40 percent were Marylanders traveling around the state and 60 percent were coming from all over the world and the rest of the country. Maryland is within 500 miles of about 50 percent of the population of the U.S. It’s pretty amazing.”

“Diversity is our strength and unity is our power,” Atticks said. “You have a group like this where you’ve got so many different businesses represented in this room and organizations represented in this room. We each have our own agendas and our own marketing agendas and budgets and skillsets, but when we work together and go to Annapolis that’s an amazingly powerful day. One day can make all the difference because you’ve got all of these folks reaching out to their elected officials. They’re completely unique stories, but it’s the same common theme: tourism, tax revenue, jobs, the economy.”

The Maryland Tourism and Travel Summit is sponsored by the Maryland Tourism Coalition, the Maryland Office of Tourism and AAA.

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