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Jerry and Valerie Jones looked intently at a map Sunday as the streets of downtown Annapolis bustled with visitors.
There was Church Circle, the Naval Academy and City Dock. The State House, Maryland Avenue and Main Street also were clearly marked.
The Pittsburgh residents had never been to Annapolis before, but they decided to visit after seeing a recent TV commercial advertising Maryland’s capital city.
“We heard it was a cool place to visit,” Jerry Jones said.
The Joneses are the kind of people tourism officials are hoping to attract.
With a $1.3 million advertising budget — up from $250,000 two years ago — the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau increased its marketing campaign significantly this year, running TV advertisements for the first time and expanding its efforts into new cities.
The Visitors Bureau anticipates the effort will help lead to a 4- to 6-percent increase in hotel occupancy and a 6- to 10-percent increase in day-trippers, said Connie del Signore, CEO of the Visitors Bureau.
“When you spend money, sometimes people notice you’re out there,” she said.
The increase in funding results from higher hotel occupancy rates, which have increased hotel tax revenues from about $13 million to roughly $18 million. The Visitors Bureau receives 17 percent of the city’s and county’s hotel taxes.
The bureau just spent $400,000 on print, digital, radio and TV advertisements, completing a spring campaign that targeted Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., and New York.
The TV advertisements ran in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, where the Joneses saw them, and in Maryland and metropolitan Washington, D.C.
During the first week of advertisements in Pennsylvania’s two largest cities, the Visitors Bureau website had 45,000 new visits. Roughly 5,100 people entered the Visitors Bureau’s recent sweepstakes for a chance to win four day, three night trips to Annapolis and Anne Arundel County.
The Visitors Bureau also produced a video advertisement running once an hour for 18 hours a day on Times Square in New York City. The ad, which began a few weeks ago, is scheduled to run for 90 days.
“It’s just branding,” del Signore said. “Successful marketing uses a combination of channels. People can see us in all different ways.”
The Visitors Bureau wants to expand marketing next year into Richmond, Va., Connecticut, Rhode Island and Chicago. The goal is to target cities that have direct Southwest Airline routes, which has a major hub at BWI Thurgood Marshall.
Nearly six million people visit Anne Arundel County every year. Those visitors spend about $3.3 billion annually, del Signore said.
April through October are the busiest months.
While Annapolis is the biggest draw, tourism officials also tout other attractions in the county, including Historic London Town and Gardens in south county, and Arundel Mills mall and Maryland Live! casino in Hanover.
Sisters Nancy Ingram and Jaynie Shaffer, of Texas, said they were in town Sunday to check out the Naval Academy after visiting family in Towson. They liked what they saw in Annapolis’ historic downtown area.
“It’s lovely,” Shaffer said.
The Academy is one of the city’s top attractions, said Veronica Gambel, a weekend supervisor at the Visitors Center.
Gambel has spoken with visitors come from all over the U.S. and the world. She said the majority of visitors come from Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.
Parents and relatives of Naval Academy midshipmen — and Navy summer camp participants — also travel from all over the U.S. to visit.
Tourists from all 50 states and 80 countries have signed the visitors book at the Visitors Center, said del Signore.
International visitors often come to Annapolis after taking in the sites in Washington, D.C. The Visitors Bureau hosts international travel writers every year, giving them tours of the city so they can produce stories and TV pieces.
If international visitors don’t have vehicles to get to Annapolis, buses and a courier service are available, though weekend schedules are limited.
Occasionally there are language barriers for international visitors. Some of the city’s seven paid visitor ambassadors speak foreign languages, del Signore said.
Visitor ambassador Jimmy Hendricks said he understands “a little” French and Spanish. For visitors speaking other languages, at least one group member typically speaks enough English to communicate, Hendricks said.
As Hendricks strolled down Main Street and made his way along City Dock Sunday afternoon, he occasionally stopped passers-by to ask if they needed help. Others stopped him, asking for information restaurants, museums and other attractions.
There were visitors from Utah and Pennsylvania and Virginia. Nearby license plates showed vehicles from North Carolina and Massachusetts.
But there also were visitors from Maryland, making day-trips to the city for lunch or to visit the spring boat show.
The biggest complaint Hendricks hears from visitors is about parking. Ingram and Shaffer, from Texas, said they had trouble finding the Visitors Center.
From locals, the biggest complaint is downtown traffic, Hendricks said.
Hendricks is a lifelong Annapolis resident — he said his family has lived in the city for 120 years — and goes out of his way to make visitors feel welcome. He doesn’t want people to leave with a negative impression of the city. Then they won’t come back.
“You want people to walk away from here telling everybody what a great time they had,” he said.
(c)2014 The Capital (Annapolis, Md.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.