40th Edition of Conference features All-Star Sport Tourism Panel
(HANOVER, Maryland) — The 40th anniversary of the Maryland Tourism and Travel Summit was “One for the books!” declared Ruth Toomey, Executive Director of the Maryland Tourism Coalition. The MTC operates the perennial celebration of hospitality and tourism in the state. Representatives and sponsors from across Maryland gathered in Hanover inside the state-of-the-art Event Center at Maryland Live! Casino for a three-day summit, November 8th through 10th, to celebrate Destination Marketing Organizations, Convention and Visitor Bureaus, hotel operators, restaurateurs, and other organizations that work closely with, or work to enhance, the tourism industry across Maryland. The summit included an opening ceremony at Laurel Race Park and was hosted by TEAM Maryland partner Visit Annapolis & Anne Arundel County.
“It’s always great meeting new people and getting to have one-on-one time with the speakers,” said Toomey, who planned the event, and echoed nearly all of the attendees – many of whom hadn’t seen one another in-person since the 2019 MTTS at Rocky Gap Resort in Allegany County. “While tourism numbers are up, we are not (fully) recovered. We will have a long road ahead of us,” said Toomey, who took home the “2021 Tourism Person of the Year” honor during the event’s closing ceremonies.
The Maryland Sports Commission, which has a longstanding partnership with the MTC – and is a multi-year sponsor of the summit – hosted this year’s main panel discussion on Tuesday afternoon. The topic focused on youth and amatuer sport tourism and the positive impact this particular sector of the industry has on local communities and the state as a whole.
“Youth and amateur sports continue to prove itself as a near ‘recession-proof’ section of the tourism market,” said Terry Hasseltine, Executive Director of the Maryland Sports Commission. Hasseltine, who admits having serious concerns about the impact that COVID closures and cancellations would have on the industry beginning in early 2020, said that he saw community members working with local governments and event organizers to find ways to make sports happen during the pandemic, “Obviously we were impacted like every other sector of the tourism and hospitality industry. But one of the first things we saw come back online was amateur and professional sports. We saw more people going outside and participating in active, outdoor sports and Event Rights Holders took notice of this and began looking for ways to return to competition spaces in a safe and socially responsible manner.”
While professional sports often receive the most attention in public discourse, especially within the 24/7 sports media-verse, Hasseltine points to the fact that youth and amateur sport tourism generates more money annually than powerhouse professional organizations like the National Football League (NFL), “Whether it’s through our non-profit arm, The Sport and Entertainment Corporation of Maryland, through our collective marketing efforts of TEAM Maryland, or Maryland Sports’ Youth and Amateur Sports Grant and Michael Erin Busch Fund, the mission of our organization is to recruit, retain, and grow the sport tourism industry in the state. And this year, especially, I wanted folks attending the summit to hear that message from someone other than me – they’ve heard me talk about our industry now for the better part of a decade. I wanted them to hear directly from industry leaders from across the country who can attest to the importance of sport tourism in their communities.”
The forum, moderated by Kevin Smith of OnPoint Sports Strategies, LLC., featured Neelay Bhatt of PROS Consulting / TEDxCollegePark, Al Kidd of Sports ETA, Kevin Smith of KBS Sports Strategies and The Collective Best, and Matt Libber, Executive Director of the Maryland SoccerPlex. The group discussed a variety of topics ranging from the best ways to connect local recreation and parks agencies with DMOs and Event Rights Holders, to training staff on the importance of hospitality in the areas of interpersonal and intercultural communication. The panel discussion was sponsored by PressBox, an advertising partner of the Maryland Sports Commission and Sport and Entertainment Corporation of Maryland.
“If there was one thing I could convey to anyone we interacted with it is the importance of travel and tourism to an overall community’s fabric,” said Bhatt, an alumnus of Harvard University and Ohio University. With a career that spans working on five continents, and consulting for organizations like Disney and The Olympics, Bhatt’s no stranger to the panel stage. His TEDx talk, which focuses on intercultural communication in an increasingly global business world, has nearly 10,000 views on YouTube. Bhatt stressed the importance of using forward-thinking solutions to solve the problems of tomorrow, a key message throughout the entirety of the three days in Anne Arundel County..
“The idea conveyed by Neelay about making sure all members of your team are working toward the same goal… brought focus to the idea that we may all think we know the direction we are going, but it is imperative to check periodically to make sure everyone is still on the same page,” said Greg Pizzuto, Executive Director of Visit Harford – a TEAM Maryland Partner.
Eric Teisch, TEAM Maryland representative for Visit Howard County, and recipient of the 2021 “New Professional of the Year Award”, said, “I keep coming back to what Neelay shared with the group – ‘What is the lasting impact (of an event)?’ That has always been my mindset as I have gone through my career as a leader – it might not be what I do now, but what do I leave behind to keep operations moving smoothly.”
In terms of discussing strategies for the future, the panel encouraged the audience to embrace change, even if something seems far-fetched, never discount the fact that what is common today may not be tomorrow. One particularly surprising topic revolved around the potential for crypto-currency to become a more stable form of transaction across the entirety of the tourism industry.
Toomey said she was even surprised that, of all the places where a serious discussion of finances and transaction in tourism could be taking place, that it was happening in the sports panel, “(The discussion) about bitcoin and being able to (have the flexibility) to accept payments the way our clients want to pay was incredibly relevant. We are seeing more ACH (Automated Clearinghouse) payments and credit card payments and (our staff) is concerned about high credit card fees. The department would rather have checks (but those) are getting lost in the mail.”
“It was great to finally get Maryland Tourism leaders back in the same room to talk about the future of the industry,” said panelist Matt Libber who was recently chosen to take on a leadership role within TEAM Maryland by partner representatives. “Sports Tourism is a key driver across the rest of the tourism industry. Our customers become customers across the other aspects while in town for a tournament, patronizing hotels, restaurants, museums, breweries, wineries, attractions, etc.”
Al Kidd of Sports ETA and Kris Smith of The Collective Best echoed this statement, alluding to the fact that, for many families, traveling to a destination for a child’s sports tournament might be the one vacation they take all year.
“Our panel shared valuable insights into the near and future trends for mainstream and emerging sports and leisure activities that will provide much needed economic fuel to the entire state of Maryland. The TEAM Maryland unified efforts for sports event acquisition and implementation, headed up by Terry Hasseltine, is one of the best in the country,” said Kidd.
“We’ve had some really great feedback from a number of folks who were at the summit and we look forward to helping our partners – and potential new partners – develop strategies to make sport tourism a thriving aspect of their tourism portfolio,” said Hasseltine.
For a full recap of the 40th Maryland Tourism and Travel Summit, including photos and attendees, CLICK HERE.
About the Maryland Sports Commission:
Enhance Maryland’s economy, image and quality of life through the attraction, promotion, retention and development of regional, national and international sporting events.
To be the Go-To Resource for the Sports Events and Sports Tourism Industry in Maryland.
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About the Maryland Tourism Coalition:
Mission: Connect, Educate, Represent
For over 50 years, the Maryland Tourism Coalition has represented and united varied segments of tour and travel, bringing together the entire industry to enhance business growth and to promote the development of Maryland
Maryland Tourism Coalition strives to create the most productive statewide tourism climate possible. We promote business, offer professional development activities, and enhance our economic impact for the benefit of all Marylanders.
Maryland Tourism Coalition works on behalf of its members to affect positive change and defend the industry. Through direct advocacy, Tourism Day and educational sessions, our members inform and engage elected officials. Diversity is our strength, unity is our power.