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Baltimore tourism increased last year despite challenges

Visit Baltimore has named Al Hutchinson its new president & CEO. (submitted photo)

Visit Baltimore President and CEO Al Hutchinson. (submitted photo)

Baltimore welcomed more visitors who spent more money last year than the year before, Visit Baltimore President and CEO Al Hutchinson said at the tourism agency’s annual meeting Tuesday at the Hilton Baltimore Inner Harbor Hotel.

In 2016, the city welcomed 25.9 million visitors who spent $5.6 billion, according to Visit Baltimore’s annual report. In 2015, 25.2 million visitors spent $5.4 billion.

Those numbers grew even as Baltimore faced increasing crime, a problem that Hutchinson acknowledged, but said every city deals with.

“We tend to focus on the positive attributes of the community, but at the same time we know we have some challenges,” he said. “But the positive side of it is that we tell the good news story of Baltimore. If you come here, it’s going to be a city that you can walk to restaurants, that you can come to hotels. We have an arts and cultural scene here, a good food scene.”

That food and beverage scene has been an area of success for the city’s chief marketers lately. Travel and Leisure named the city the coolest on the East Coast this year while Coastal Living, the New York Times and Traveler have also praised the city as a travel destination.

To capitalize on that, the city relaunched its #MyBmore social media campaign over the summer, which has been used in more than 18,000 posts. It also launched a new video campaign this month that will target markets along the Interstate 95 corridor from Washington to New York.

Domestically, Philadelphia and the Washington region are some of the top targets for Visit Baltimore because of the proximity to the city. Combined, the two markets accounted for 27 percent of visitors to Baltimore.

But Visit Baltimore is also looking to make more inroads with international travelers who stay longer and spend more money than other visitors. Specifically, the agency is targeting travelers from Canada and the United Kingdom because of direct flights to Baltimore Washington International-Thurgood Marshall Airport.

“We feel that the international market is low-hanging fruit for us as an organization,” Hutchinson said. “There is an opportunity for us to go into those markets and talk to people that live in the UK and live in Canada about all that Baltimore has to offer.”

But closer to home, the city wants to do more to draw visitors from Baltimore’s surrounding counties. Tax revenue from county residents visiting city restaurants has been down, Hutchinson said.

He said Visit Baltimore would be making a concerted effort to appeal to people in the greater Baltimore metropolitan area.

“It’s very important for people from our five surrounding counties to be excited about Baltimore,” he said. “We want them to be great cheerleaders of Baltimore and tell folks to go to Baltimore, see our attractions, see our restaurants and do a staycation, stay at some of our hotels.”

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