As business owners on both the Delaware and Maryland shores can attest, Memorial Day weekend kicks off one of their most anticipated weekends of the year, as vacationers ready their trips to some of the best-loved beaches in the Mid-Atlantic. Earlier this month, the Bethany-Fenwick Chamber of Commerce hosted their monthly breakfast at Mango’s in Bethany Beach, where guest speaker and Delaware tourism director Linda Parkowski explained the dynamics of tourism within the state and what businesses particularly need to be aware of this year.
“Tourism is valuable and important here in Delaware,” Parkowski said, “and … the industry hasn’t got the message out about how much of an economic impact tourism does make and how important it is to the quality of life for the average citizen of Delaware.”
According to Parkowski’s statistics, Delaware tourism contributed a total of $1.47 billion in the 2007 fiscal year in gross domestic product (GDP).
“What people don’t realize,” she stated, “is that tourism in the state is larger than the agriculture or automotive industry.”
Delaware employs 38,000 people in the tourism industry in Delaware, which makes it the fifth largest employer in the state.
“There were 7.8 million visitors that came here in calendar year 2007,” she added, “and although tourism is dropping as a whole [as a result of the economy], tourism in Sussex County is still going strong.”
Most visitors to the state are one-day visitors, which emphasizes the need to attract more people to the area, she said.
“Not only are we looking to do things that will make us more appealing and make people want to visit,” Parkowski said, “we want them to spend more time here.”
The average visitor to Delaware comes for a day and spends approximately $200 per day. According to statistics, those who stay for four to seven nights can average $1,600 spent on their trip. The largest draw of visitors to Delaware comes from the South-Atlantic region – Maryland and Virginia. The second-largest group of visitors hails from the Mid-Atlantic region, which includes New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
So what is the state’s tourism bureau targeting to maximize its impact? According to Parkowski’s statistics, 70 percent of all travel these days is booked online, and 43 percent of all e-commerce (business done over the Internet) is travel-related.
“We need to have Web presence,” she said. “Businesses will benefit by networking over the Internet.”
Delaware’s tourism site, www.visitdelaware.com, has already taken an initiative toward the online campaign, enhancing its site, including working with Internet travel service Travelocity to help visitors plan their trips.
“We’re also working on the formation of the Delaware Sports Commission,” she said, “which will, hopefully, be up and running by July.
The Delaware tourism bureau has been working in close proximity with business owners, sports facilities, sports media and venue holders to promote more sports and activities throughout the state.
“We didn’t have the structure in place before to go out and bid and recruit for sporting events in the state,” she said. “We were leaving $30 million in 12 weeks of economic impact on the table. We have people driving south, traveling right past our great golf courses. We want to get the word out to them and pull them in.”
Parkowski noted that the Freeman Foundation has been assisting in the development of the Delaware Golf Consortium, which concentrates on promoting the sport of golf and golf tournaments in the state.
“There are numerous sporting events we’ve been looking into,” she added. “Sports at the Beach in Georgetown has been named the No. 2 baseball facility in country, according to event owners all over. It generates $36 million of economic impact to the county every year. It’s only second to Disney. It’s truly a gem we have in Sussex County.”
Parkowski’s tourism committee has also been in touch with large venue groups, in hopes of making the state’s presence known for more large meetings and conventions. She has also met with officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Delaware Emergency Management Agency (DEMA), conducting tourism disaster planning seminars.
Delaware’s Department of Tourism is also looking into raising awareness for a state-wide geo-caching trail, the Delaware Biking Council and possible tourism grants.