TTW – Please brief us on Baltimore’s performance in 2012 in terms of tourist footfall.
Tom Noonan : In June we hosted Baltimore’s largest tourism event – more than 1.54 million visitors turned out for Star-Spangled Sailabration to celebrate the national launch of the bicentennial of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the War of 1812 in Maryland. Sailabration served as the first leg of the three-year commemoration and featured more than 45 vessels from around the world docked at the Inner Harbor, Fell‘s Point and Locust Point, with the largest international tall ships tied up in the Inner Harbor. Sailabration provided the perfect backdrop to experience Baltimore from the historic waterfront neighborhoods surrounding the Inner Harbor, while simultaneously showcasing the natural beauty, modern skyline and vibrant tourism zones of 21st-century downtown Baltimore. We’ll host another Sailabration-type event in September 2014 as we mark the 200th anniversary of the penning of the national anthem here in Baltimore.
Our professional sports teams both had great seasons, driving more visitors downtown to experience the games in our urban ballparks. We also had the honor of hosting great meetings and events including the African American Travel Conference, Association of Museums, National Sports Collectors, NEOCon East, Out & Equal Workplace Summit, Firehouse Expo and SPIE, to name just a few, which brought visitors from across the country to Baltimore.
TTW – How do you plan to promote Baltimore as a MICE destination for 2013?
Tom Noonan : Visit Baltimore will utilize a number of strategic partnerships to expand awareness and marketing channels that reach meeting and event professionals. We have launched a new version of our trade advertising focused on Baltimore’s accessibility and ease of doing business and are working to refocus the meeting and event information on our website with a re-launch in mid-2013. We’ve also recently launched a new virtual tour experience, BaltimoreInSite, the first of its kind in the country. Developed by Ayers Saint Gross, this new 3-D virtual tour combines Visit Baltimore’s membership database with real-time mapping technology to provide users with a realistic model of downtown Baltimore. The application currently allows Visit Baltimore’s sales team to help meeting planners visualize Baltimore’s meeting footprint without having to visit in person, providing the opportunity to sell Baltimore from the client’s desk and highlighting tourism attractions, hotels and the Baltimore Convention Center – all with the flick of a finger. Clients can explore meeting space at hotels and dining capacity at restaurants and build their own virtual tours highlighting an individual group’s hotel package or special event venues. Ipad users can also download the BaltimoreInSite app via the Apple Store. We will also be exhibiting at key industry tradeshow throughout the year to meet face-to-face with current and potential customers to share updates on Baltimore and share why Baltimore should be their number one meetings destination choice in 2013 and beyond.
TTW: Which market are you currently eyeing on?
Tom Noonan : Visit Baltimore is a great meetings destination for medical, scientific, association, pharmaceutical and corporate groups, and we are actively reaching out to those markets through a number of sales strategies.
TTW: Last year Baltimore Grand Prix was a grand success. How are you preparing for the event this year?
Tom Noonan : The Grand Prix of Baltimore is organized by Race On Baltimore, LLC. Visit Baltimore will continue to work in partnership with them and their partners to help promote the race to out-of-town visitors via our website, www.baltimore.org; targeted e-newsletters; and marketing and public relations support. We’ve also utilized the race as an opportunity to promote Baltimore as a meetings and events destination by hosting meeting and event planning customers during the race, showcasing the depth and breadth of events that can take place in Baltimore.
TTW: Share your long association with Visit Baltimore.
Tom Noonan : I joined Visit Baltimore as president and CEO in January 2007. I’m proud to say since 2007 we’ve been able to double our pipeline for future bookings and produced the five highest historic booking levels in Visit Baltimore history (2007-2012), including an all-time high in Fiscal Year 2009. We’ve seen the addition of great new tourism events including the Grand Prix of Baltimore, and many historic commemorations including the Civil War 150th, Star-Spangled Sailabration and Edgar Allan Poe’s 200th Birthday celebration. We’ve been able to showcase the city as a premier meetings destination by hosting key industry shows including AIBTM, Tradeshow Week’s Fastest 50, the CBI Pharmaceutical Meeting Planners Forum and ASAE’s Healthcare Association conference.
We’ve also launched a citywide Tourism Ambassador program to enhance customer service and improve the visitor’s overall experience in Baltimore.
TTW: What are the initiatives you are undertaking to put Baltimore as an eco-friendly destination?
Tom Noonan : Baltimore has a number of initiatives in place to grow the destination as an eco-friendly city. In 2012 we worked hand-in-hand with Baltimore City Parking Authority to fund and open a new motorcoach parking facility. This effort will help cut down on motorcoaches idling on the streets of Baltimore because they now have a secure, safe place to park and turn off their vehicles.
Fast, frequent, green and free – that’s the trademark of downtown Baltimore’s shuttle bus system. Visitors now find getting around Baltimore even easier with 21 sleek, hybrid buses providing convenient and reliable transportation on four different routes. The free shuttles run every 10 minutes from early morning to late night, seven days a week, allowing visitors to park their cars and use this green form of transportation to get around town.
The Baltimore Convention Center (BCC) is taking new strides in their greening effort by working toward a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification (LEED). The certification, issued by the Green Building Council, is based on a points system. The BCC has several projects planned that will work toward obtaining the 32 points needed to become certified as a LEED Certified Existing Building.
The building was the first convention center in the country to operate SOMAT, a two-part waste reduction system that reduces solid waste up to 90 percent and produces a useable soil product. In addition, the BCC is committed to implementing daily use products that are environmentally friendly for facility-wide cleaning and maintenance. Sixty percent of the current product inventory is environmentally friendly. Research and planning is being undertaken to ensure that 100 percent of cleaning products will be earth friendly in the near future.
The BCC also features a 27,000-square-foot outdoor terrace green roof that doubles as space for receptions or relaxation. More than half the space is designed with drought-resistance vegetative roofing, a portion of which includes an herb garden whose bounty is utilized in the center’s state-of-the-art kitchen facility. The BCC’s VIP Suite, Board Room and east-side restrooms were are renovated to incorporate fixtures to reduce annual water consumption by 25 percent. The BCC is also re-lamping the entire facility with energy-efficient bulbs that will reduce carbon, sulfur, nitrogen dioxide and mercury.
Baltimore’s hotels are also big into greening efforts. The Hilton Convention Center Hotel features 32,000 square feet of living green roof, the largest in the city. The roof, slightly bigger than the Baltimore Ravens football field, extends over both the east and west buildings. In addition to providing a haven for birds and other wildlife, the green roof provides many other benefits including the reduction of storm water runoff; reduction in the amount of blacktop roofs in the city, which, in turn, reduces the heat island effect; and reduction in HVAC cooling loads, resulting in greater energy efficiency. The Fairfield Inn & Suites is Baltimore’s first green hotel. The 154-room hotel opened in July 2009 on the former site of DeGroen’s Baltimore Brewing Company in historic Jonestown, just a few blocks from the Inner Harbor. It marks the first LEED-certified hotel in the city. The Fairfield Inn offers environmental suites that feature HEPA filters and bicycles.
The Inn at the Black Olive is an LEED platinum building, one of the most energy efficient and environmentally friendly buildings in the world. It includes a gourmet market, three floors of 12 suite boutique rooms and a rooftop restaurant. Energy efficient/green building components include geothermal, photovaltaic and thermal solar, radiant-heated floors; natural clay and limestone coatings; aerated autoclaved concrete; green roof/restaurant herb garden; rainwater collection; energy and air monitoring systems; machine-room-less elevators; LED and fiber optic lighting; and automated shade control. The inn is working to create a “Blue Zone”
TTW: What are the sectors you want to invest in and develop in 2013?
Tom Noonan : Tom Noonan: In 2013 we’re investing in a number of sectors that will help us build the tourism base for Baltimore in 2014 and beyond. We’ve recently announced that Baltimore will host IAEE’s Annual Meeting & Exhibition Expo! Expo! December 8-10, 2015. We’re also building toward a breakout 2014 tourism year that includes a great college conference schedule with the CAA men’s basketball tournament in March and the NCAA lacrosse men’s championships over Memorial Day weekend in May. In addition to the great college sporting events, in 2014 Baltimore will also host the annual Preakness Stakes in May, the Grand Prix of Baltimore over Labor Day weekend in September, and the Army-Navy game in December at M&T Bank Stadium. We’ll also be working toward the 2014 bicentennial of the penning of the national anthem in Baltimore with the second of our blockbuster bicentennial events featuring the Blue Angels air show, tall ships and Navy vessels in September. We’re also looking forward to working with Horseshoe Casino as they build toward their planned opening in 2014.
TTW: Hope that 2013 continues to be a grand affair for Baltimore. Any new tourism projects lined up?
Tom Noonan : We’ve recently launched a new Legends & Legacies Experience pass that offers the opportunity to experience three distinctive museums that tell a uniquely American story. The pass provides discount admission when you visit the National Great Blacks In Wax Museum, the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture.
We’re also in the midst of three historical commemorations including the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the centennial of Harriet Tubman’s passing and the bicentennial of the War of 1812.
The National Aquarium in Baltimore is preparing to open a new Blacktip Reef exhibition in the summer of 2013. This coral-filled exhibit, replicating a salt-water Indo-Pacific ocean habitat, will feature animals new to the National Aquarium, including blacktip reef sharks, reticulated whiptail rays and ornate wobbegong sharks, as well as some of National Aquarium’s most beloved animals, including Calypso, the 400-pound green sea turtle, and zebra sharks Zeke and Zoe. Guests visiting the National Aquarium, Baltimore, will be able to enjoy the new $12.5 million exhibit from many vantage points, including a new floor-to-ceiling pop-out viewing window that allows guests to step “inside” the exhibit and come face-to-face with the magnificent animal species and corals. Blacktip Reef will be located in the heart of the National Aquarium’s Pier 3 Pavilion, where the Wings in the Water exhibit currently resides. Guests will also have the opportunity to engage with National Aquarium experts through daily interactive Blacktip Reef diver presentations and shark feedings. Informative computer touchscreens throughout the exhibit will provide photos, videos and further facts about the reef ecosystem. At the end of their Blacktip Reef visit, guests can share their experience on a new interactive wall by uploading photos and comments, and by making personal commitments to ocean health.