By John Savich, St. Mary's County Economic Development
LEONARDTOWN, Md. - As our tourism industry grows, one of the most promising targets for new business is the motorcoach tour market. In case you wonder, "motorcoach" is a more highfalutin word for a bus. St. Mary's County Tourism Manager Carolyn Laray recently attended the American Bus Association's annual "Marketplace" held in Grapevine, Texas. This annual event is the largest gathering of motorcoach industry partners in North America and this year's event was the largest ever. Three thousand participants including 650 tour operators from the United States and Canada met on the marketplace floor to buy and to sell. Destination marketers and representatives from hotels, restaurants, and sites and attractions brought out their latest products while tour operators searched for new locations and activities to offer their clients.
Forty-two Maryland "sellers" attended ABA including local representatives from St. Mary's, Harford, Anne Arundel/Annapolis, Baltimore, Montgomery, Carroll, and Prince Georges counties. An important part of the marketplace was the state caucus, when Rich Gilbert, Maryland Tourism's Sales and Marketing Manager, shared his leads with all of the state attendees for follow-up during the rest of the week.
This was the first time St. Mary's County was represented at an ABA marketplace and it was an opportunity to spotlight the county as a undiscovered destination. Most important was the opportunity to sit down face-to-face with individual tour operators, hear what their customers are really looking for in the upcoming year and then to let them know how perfect a place our county can be. Operators were particularly interested in the our maritime sites, especially the lighthouses, water excursions and seafood, as well as sites that offer student tours, especially as a supplement to visits to Washington D.C. On a more general level, the big trend everywhere seemed to be food-based tours featuring cooking demos and tastings. Now that the marketplace is over, the important work of following-up begins as County Tourism works to transform the great leads gathered in Grapevine into group visits that will benefit our local industry partners.
Next year, the ABA Marketplace will a bit closer as it will be held in Virginia Beach. With the motorcoach industry boasting more than 631 million passenger trips per year, and overnight spending between $5,000 and $12,000 per bus as incentive, we hope partners from our hotels, restaurants, and sites and attractions will join forces to make a big splash at Virginia Beach. Tourism industry partners should call Carolyn Laray at 301-475-4200 ext 1403 to find out more about joining ABA and attending the 2008 Marketplace
What's next? The Tourism Division is partnering with Charles and Calvert County tourism offices and heading to the Pennsylvania Bus Association's Marketplace in Harrisburg at the end of March. Stay tuned.