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Baltimore County Looks For Ways To Cash In On Tourism

John Lee

Quick: can you think of three tourist attractions in Baltimore County? 

If not, county officials say it’s because they’ve not done enough to tell you about them. 


The county commissioned a study that lays out how it has fallen short on capitalizing on a multi-billion dollar industry, and what it can do about it. 


Take the case of Sarah and Jon Bedsaul.


The couple live in Middle River and spent a recent Sunday afternoon at Hampton Mansion in Towson. They found out about it not from Baltimore County, but from their National Park Passport, which lists the parks nationwide.


“We didn’t actually know it was here,” Sarah Bedsaul said. “But the passport showed it on the map. It was only about 20 minutes from home. So it seems like a nice idea to check out something that I didn’t know was here, tucked away in my own back yard.”


Historically, Hampton is a big deal. In 1790, it may have been the largest private home in the U.S. Stone slave quarters still stand. Last year, nearly 30,000 people visited Hampton. But compare that to Fort McHenry and its 486,000 visitors in 2018. 


“You know about Fort McHenry,” Ms. Bedsaul said. “Everybody knows that’s there.”


And this, according to the consultant’s report on tourism commissioned by the county is part of its problem. 


There is no Fort McHenry, no mega-historic site. And there is no centralized location to visit like the Inner Harbor in the city or the National Mall in Washington, D.C. There is cool stuff to see, but it’s under the radar and spread throughout the county. 


Will Anderson, Baltimore County’s economic development director, said up until now, the county has not been doing much to sell itself.


“We do some nice things like our visitor guide and our on line pieces, but there’s a level we need to step up to tell that story because the assets are already there,” Anderson said.


In Halethorpe, there is one big fat asset that since its opening last August has made a big splash on its own, The Guinness Open Gate Brewery and Barrel House 


The company had hoped to attract 300,000 people its first year. It has already surpassed that. 


Mary Ann Carey from central Wisconsin recently was sitting in the tap room with her son and his family, who live in Silver Spring. They were cooling off after hiking nearby in Patapsco Valley State Park.


Carey said, “I’ve come to visit my family and like hiking and beer.”


That is music to the ears of county officials. A family from out of town, one from out of state, making Guinness a destination. Anderson said it was the coming of Guinness that got the county thinking it needed to kick its tourism marketing into a higher gear. How do you convince people who are flocking to the brewery to fan out and check out other places, especially other local breweries?


“There’s enough ‘there’ there that people are coming very specifically for it that if we can package it for them in a tourism way we can get more benefit for the county and actually for the whole region,” Anderson said.


Guinness is now Baltimore County’s second most popular tourist attraction. The State Fair is number one. The Fire Museum of Maryland in Lutherville and Hampton Mansion, are a distant third and fourth, respectively.


The county gets about 6 million visitors a year. But the consultant says that number can increase if the county spends more on selling the tourist attractions it has. Officials say they plan to do just that, as they work on a plan to market Baltimore County.


You can find the consultant's report at http://resources.baltimorecountymd.gov/Documents/EconomicDevel/strategictourismreport.pdf


This is the first of a two-part report. Part 2 airs Thursday morning.


John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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