Q&A: John Fieseler
Executive Director of the Tourism Council of Frederick County
First, how many tourists a year come to Frederick County and when do they usually descend? Should we be mowing our lawns and sweeping the porches to prepare for a summer crowd?
The most recent overall visitor count data is from 2011. The 1,546,700 visitors (from at least 50 miles away) that year represented a 9.7 percent increase over 2010, compared to a statewide increase of 3.7 percent. Hotel data is more quickly available and shows continued growth in revenue through 2012. Hotel revenue grew 23 percent from 2010 to 2012, topping $45 million for the first time.
We are anticipating a busy summer, particularly with the strong interest in the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in early July. Hotel rooms in Frederick are being booked by the overflow from Gettysburg’s hotels. Another special event, in mid-June, is when Francis Scott Key’s original handwritten manuscript for The Star-Spangled Banner comes to Frederick for the first time. General leisure visitation has continued to rebound, with strong interest in our dining, specialty shopping, outdoor recreation, wineries, orchards and more.
What’s the economic impact of tourism to the local economy?
The Economic Impact of Tourism in Maryland report for 2011 shows that visitor spending in Frederick County totaled more than $325 million, a 12.7 percent increase from 2010 and well ahead of pre-recession levels. Our growth in tourism spending exceeded the 7.8 percent increase experienced by the state as a whole. Spending by visitors directly covered the salaries of 3,777 employees, and supported a total of 6,075 jobs when indirect spending is included.
Our history is a huge drawing card, but what if the Civil War isn’t your thing, what else makes people come here?
If visitors are here from the western half of the U.S. or from other countries, the likely draw was our history, in particular the Civil War, or the religious shrines in Emmitsburg. For visitors from locations closer to Frederick, they are likely to be here for our outstanding dining, specialty shopping or our countryside, including wineries and microbreweries, orchards, covered bridges and historic villages.
What about visitors from other countries? How do they find out about Frederick County?
We get visitors from dozens of other countries, with the largest numbers coming from the U.K., Canada and Germany. Through a cooperative effort of Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., we are able to market in a cost effective manner. If they are visiting Washington from the other side of the Atlantic, a distance of 50 miles to Frederick County isn’t an issue to them.
What about us? What do tourists say about our hospitality?
We are truly blessed at the Tourism Council to be able to promote a destination that has so many people doing so much to make it a great place to visit. From the museum docents to the volunteers at special events, friendly shopkeepers, hoteliers and restaurateurs in our community, we have thousands who impact visitors’ experiences. We hear on a regular basis how friendly and helpful our local residents are to visitors.
How’s the new visitor center working out? You’re open nearly every day— do you get a vacation and where do you go?
The new Frederick Visitor Center at 151 S. East St. has worked out extremely well. The exhibits and orientation film in the center have increased the time visitors spend here. We are open seven days a week except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day and Easter, from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., but we believe in the power of travel and certainly provide individual staff members time off. My wife Katie and I get away a few times each year, likely to the mountains, and hit the ocean at least once a year. Occasionally there’s a trip abroad.