As fall foliage develops in Western Maryland, the Washington County Board of Commissioners agreed this week to share more federal aid with the local tourism bureau to promote tourism opportunities.
After hearing how the first $80,000 distribution of federal aid helped market local tourism, the commissioners voted 4-0 on Tuesday to share another $210,000 with Visit Hagerstown, the county’s convention and visitors bureau.
“We very much appreciate the county commissioners’ consideration. It’s less about the CVB than it is about each of the 311 member businesses we support, Visit Hagerstown President Dan Spedden said Wednesday.
“All of them are hungry for customers right now,” Spedden said. “We feel a strong sense of obligation to continue and even increase the kind of advertising we do and provide businesses an opportunity to survive this pandemic.”
As of Aug. 31, the tourism bureau’s share of the county lodging tax revenue was down $274,169 compared to that point in 2019, Spedden said. So far in 2020, the 6% tax has raised $482,088 for the tourism bureau. Visit Hagerstown and the county government split the lodging tax revenue.
With state-mandated restrictions still limiting what entertainment venues can be open and reducing various businesses’ capacity in order to prevent spreading the virus that causes COVID-19, the tourism bureau has focused on one of the county’s strengths — outdoor recreational opportunities.
The $210,000 will help promote the county into winter, when people have to be “hardy” to continue to recreate outdoors, Spedden said.
Visit Hagerstown will still focus on promoting the area as a convenient stopover for people traveling through as well as encouraging visitors to “escape the city” for a weekend road trip, Spedden said.
The advertising campaign has included “digital billboards” that pop up on smartphones, laptops and tablets with full browsers as people traveling along Interstate 81 look for lodging, gas or food, Spedden said. The ads point out the Hagerstown exits and note the plethora of opportunities for resting, refueling and eating.
A second truck wrap promoting the area will be added. A truck wrapped in marketing material has been traveling up and down I-81 from Winchester, Va., to Camp Hill, Pa., twice a day, attracting the eyes of an estimated 80,000 people a day, officials said.
The first $80,000 the commissioners directed to the tourism bureau in August, from its share of funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, was used for the first truck wrap, digital billboards and 25,000 visitors guides inserted in a Sunday edition of The Washington Post on Labor Day weekend.
The tourism bureau’s website saw a large spike in usage days earlier when the Post advertised the insert digitally, according to county documents. Visitors to the website have particularly been interested in kayaking and biking opportunities.
Commissioner Randy Wagner suggested Tuesday the tourism bureau try to steer more money to digital ads than print.
But Spedden said the bureau is marketing across five generations and the two oldest have “all the money” and love visitors guides and brochures.
Commissioner Wayne Keefer, concerned about projections that many restaurants could permanently shutter by the end of the year, suggested Tuesday that something special be done for local eateries.
Spedden said Wednesday that the tourism bureau is not a marketing arm for a particular business, but county and state tourism efforts just wrapped up promoting a restaurant week led by the state restaurant association.
The more people that marketing efforts can encourage to stop in the county, whether on their way somewhere or for a weekend, the more that will help restaurants, he said.
An overnight visit can generate restaurant stops for dinner and breakfast, while a weekend road trip could result in four meals, he said.
Food and beverage is the number one recipient of tourism dollars in Washington County, followed by retail and lodging, Spedden said.
As temperatures drop, marketing efforts will continue to promote byways exploration, seeing the county through a “windshield tour” by driving the countryside, Spedden said.
People might not walk the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park towpath in January, but they might drive the C&O Canal byway, he said.