Maryland tourism officials say more tourists than ever are visiting the state despite an anemic economy.
The Maryland Office of Tourism says the state attracted 35.4 million visitors in 2012. Leisure travel led the increase, growing 6.7 percent last year and 39 percent since 2007. The Daily Record reports that the new figures were announced at the annual Maryland Tourism and Travel Summit this week.
New attractions, including casinos, have helped boost the industry. Margot Amelia, executive director of the office, also credits a change in marketing strategy from a summer push to a yearlong effort. Investments in attractions like National Harbor and Maryland Live Casino have also helped, she said.
"You're seeing some demand being driven by these gaming facilities,'' she said.
Baltimore is hoping for a piece of the action with the opening of the Horseshow Casino, which is expected next year, according to Visit Baltimore President and CEO Tom Noonan.
"These guys are going to be out selling Baltimore,'' he said. "It's like adding millions of dollars to my advertising budget.''
The casino is expected to improve revenue at city hotels, where occupancy rates are coming back from recession levels, said Noonan.
Hotels around the state are still affected by the recession, Amelia said.
"Perhaps there's been a little overbuilding in some of our destinations,'' she said. "As you add hundreds and hundreds of hotel rooms to a market, that changes the dynamic.''
A decrease in business travel due a weak economy has compounded that problem and federal budget cuts are having an impact too.
"You don't realize how much travel in Maryland was this government travel,'' said Amelia. "That might keep me up a little bit at night thinking about sequestration.''
Those cuts have also affected air travel as well, said Jonathan Dean, a spokesman for Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, where passenger traffic fell 1.5 percent in September from one year before. The impact has been softened by an increase in international travel and big events in the state such as the Sailabration in 2012, part of the War of 1812 commemorations.