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St. Mary’s enters new era for tourism with master plan

Chris Kaselemis

Chris Kaselemis, director of the county’s Department of Economic Development, speaks to the Lexington Park Rotary Club.

St. Mary’s County is a hot-bed of innovation, and that is not exclusive of the tourism industry. Beginning in July 2018, the county’s tourism industry will be a supported by a new, nimble nonprofit entity that will focus on increasing overnight stays and help to build experiences that visitors love, remember and talk about.

This is a result of the 2017 Tourism and Hospitality Master Plan. The master plan puts the county’s tourism industry on the path to building superb experiences for visitors of the county. A key tenet of the plan is a singular tourism entity that can focus on strategically and creatively supporting the tourism industry. This is the first step in bringing the master plan recommendations to life.

A key benefit of the new tourism entity will be its ability to identify, earn and leverage additional resources. The county will provide annual funding to the new nonprofit organization with a first year allocation at the same level that the county’s Tourism Division received. In future years, the allocation will be pegged to the Accommodations Tax (hotel tax) receipts, which have been consistently rising. This is a big win for tourism in St. Mary’s as it will position the new tourism entity to receive more tourism dollars. This influx in revenue will allow the tourism organization to better support the county’s industry and take tourism to the next level.

Focusing on overnight stays will be a boon to our local economy. The master plan found that day trippers spend $87 per trip on average. Compare that to the average of $630 per trip that an overnight stay brings into our economy. With overnight stays as the key performance measure for the new tourism entity and the annual allocation from the county pegged to the taxes from overnight stays going to the entity, we will be able to measure the economic impact and the entity itself will see the benefits of its own excellent performance.

The goal of the master planning effort was to identify how St. Mary’s can raise tourism to the next level. Despite the many tourism assets in St. Mary’s, tourism has stagnated due to flat resources and an unfocused approach that concentrated primarily on marketing and advertising. The plan concluded that if we do things the same way with the same resources, we should not expect to move the needle for tourism. In addition to the potential for more resources by linking funding to the hotel tax, the master plan emphasized the need to focus on product development — the actual experience once visitors get here. For example, visitors increasingly are looking for hands-on, interactive museums and attractions that engage them and their families.

The creation of this new tourism entity demonstrates the county government’s commitment to implement the Tourism and Hospitality Master Plan. The master plan was a result of the collaboration, expertise, and input from the St. Mary’s tourism community. Their level of input and engagement was a key catalyst for the overall direction of the master plan. The Master Plan described all of the many county tourism assets and amenities related to tourism and provided strategies to better position the county as a tourism destination through innovative methods to grow the local tourism economy. The master plan effort was an outgrowth of the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy which is focused on building an innovation-driven economy in St. Mary’s.

To help the county make this organizational transition, a five-person transitional board made up of the key stakeholders tasked with providing insight and support to the master plan process was created. Once the new tourism entity is up and running, the board will expand to include 12-15 individuals with broad representation from the tourism industry and business community. An executive director will be hired in April or May to ensure a smooth transition to the July 1 start date for the new entity.

The new entity, to be called “Visit St. Mary’s MD,” will be charged with implementing the Tourism and Hospitality Master Plan. We are excited to position this new tourism entity to build and promote a robust tourist experience and making St. Mary’s a great place to explore, eat and play.

Chris Kaselemis is the director of the St. Mary’s County Department of Economic Development.

Twitter: @Darwinsomd