Baltimore has strong tourism offerings, but those unfamiliar with the city may have trouble looking past the headlines about violent crime. The tourism board is ready to take control of that narrative.
Visit Baltimore will unveil in April a new brand and national marketing campaign, in part designed to help potential visitors look beyond the city’s negative stereotypes. Baltimore’s tourism offerings frequently get overshadowed by national headlines about violent crime and scenes from the hit TV show The Wire.
“It’s not uncommon for us to get questions about public safety when talking to folks who have never visited Baltimore before or maybe haven’t visited in several years, but that’s not the only story to tell,” said Sarah Schaffer, chief marketing officer of Visit Baltimore.
“Having that singular discussion around Baltimore as a place that’s either safe or unsafe is unfair to the city and everyone here,” she said. “So we’re trying to expand the conversation.”
Schaffer identified two target audiences for the national campaign: “creative spirits” who might plan a trip around trying a great restaurant, and “young urban explorers,” 17- to 24-year-olds who would look for an underground cultural or artistic scene on a weekend trip. The rebrand will include a new website and three-dimensional fabrications of the new logo placed around the city in addition to traditional visual media and social media.
A Super Bowl ad teased Baltimore’s new tourism concept in February, featuring words by East Baltimore poet Kondwani Fidel, likening the city to its culinary trademark: “If you’ve never eaten a crab before, you won’t know how just by looking at it. You have to sit at the table.”
“I thought it was great, the way they compared the city to a crab,” said Brian Oliver about the Super Bowl ad. Oliver was born and raised in Baltimore and is the founder and executive director of BMore See More, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering Baltimore City’s male students of color through education, mentorship, and travel. “Once people finally visit they’re like wow, I should have come here a long time ago.”
Images of violent crime, residents moving away, and scenes from The Wire are significantly informing the public’s image of the city, said Oliver, adding that he sees the phrase “city in crisis” all too often. “I’ve traveled to nearly 60 countries and I’m always shocked that when I tell people in some other country that I’m from Baltimore, they’ll frown or give me a weird look. They’re like, ‘No way, I’ve heard bad things about that place.’”
As popular as The Wire was, it didn’t spur the kind of tourism that Breaking Bad — also a runaway hit about crime and drugs — did for Albuquerque.
“The city is taking a turn for the better, and with that [Super Bowl] commercial airing when it did, it grabbed a lot of people’s attention,” said Oliver. “It shows our personality. I think it will entice people to visit.” Oliver believes convention business may pick up going forward: The CIAA, the nation’s first African-American athletic conference, chose Baltimore for the 2021–2023 Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournament.
“Sports is a big part of our DNA,” said Schaffer, adding that pursuing meetings and conventions business is part of the new campaign.
Besides Baltimore’s well-known sports scene, seafood, and American history landmarks, the city also offers a revived waterfront that’s been 40 years in the making.
“I would definitely like to see more travelers come to Baltimore, for business and personal reasons,” said Quintin Lathan, a member of Nomadness Tribe who was born and raised in Baltimore. He mentioned jazz and black history among the city’s strongest offerings.
“We are extreme seafood enthusiasts,” said Lathan. “We have the best blue crabs and crab cakes on the planet.”
Photo credit: Baltimore has long been reviving its waterfront into a tourist attraction. Visit Baltimore