By Amanda Fenstermaker, Director of Dorchester County Tourism
Members of the community often ask me, “What is the real value of the tourism industry in Dorchester County and the city of Cambridge?”
Because I talk to visitors and meet with local tourism partners every day, it’s easy for me to respond. But I recognize that if you work at home or in an office, on the water, in a manufacturing plant or medical center, the answer is less evident.
And it’s a question that’s even more relevant today as we see the true economic impact of COVID-19 during the spring and summer tourism seasons.
But Dorchester is not unique. Whether we’re in the middle of a pandemic or robust economic times, industries of all kinds are challenged to prove their worth. This is especially true in towns like Cambridge where tourism sometimes goes unnoticed, yet represents a significant source of jobs, sales and tax revenues.
It’s why I’m often reminded of what happened in Grand Island, Nebraska when a manufacturer chose to pay employee bonuses in $2 bills because they wanted the community to appreciate their contribution to the local economy.
The Power of $2
Because $2 bills are rare, this story can’t be replicated today. But just imagine if visitors suddenly paid for every transaction in Dorchester County with $2 bills. What are the many places that money would show up in a typical year?
We’d see $2 bills at fast food restaurants on Rt. 50 as out-of-towners stop for coffee or a sandwich before an adventure at Blackwater Refuge. At our gas stations and marinas, where fishermen fill up their boats to take advantage of Dorchester’s lower prices.
In Cambridge, where families come to see the Harriet Tubman Mural, then stroll the downtown streets to buy hats, sundresses, souvenirs and ice cream. In galleries and antique stores, where couples browse and buy treasures made by local painters, woodworkers and others artisans.
And at RAR, where beer enthusiasts come to sample what’s on tap, enjoy lunch at a restaurant and head home with cases of ales and sours to share with friends (who then make a similar trek to Cambridge in the weeks ahead).
At the Hyatt where the front desk, golf course, restaurants and bars are busy with vacationers and meeting guests, and waiters, valets and housekeepers are tipped with $2 bills. Not to forget the other hotels, B&Bs and rental properties throughout Dorchester.
And in downtown Cambridge, where all those overnight guests come for dinner and spend more money on crab cakes, fried oysters, soft crabs and other favorites caught by local watermen as well as farm to table fare raised by our livestock, chicken and produce farmers.
What happens before all those visitors leave for home? You got it. Time to fill up on car snacks and gas once more because they all know it’s cheaper on this side of the bridge.
And soon after, those $2 bills would begin to spread throughout our community. We’d see them at the drug store register, at the farmers market, in tips at the hair salon – even in the offering plate at church.
Missing in 2020?
Unfortunately, 2020 is not a typical tourism season. And right now, those mythical $2 bills wouldn’t be plentiful because of the coronavirus.
If you look at the four-month period March – June 2019, a little over $2 million in tourism-related tax – lodging, restaurants and other businesses and services – was generated in Dorchester County. That’s about 35 percent of the $5.8 million annual tourism total.
It’s safe to assume the same four-month period in 2020 will be about 90 percent less, and even with “re-opening,” the summer and fall months – typically almost half of all total tourism tax revenues – will be dramatically reduced.
And I haven’t even touched on the thousands of local residents affected by tourism industry employees who are currently out of work.
Yet I remain extremely optimistic about our future.
Unlike many destinations, we are well positioned to take advantage of the anticipated tourism trend that families in the populated Mid-Atlantic will look to cocoon – choosing to drive, book vacations and experience weekend getaways close to home. And they’ll seek outdoor activities in open spaces.
Sounds like Dorchester County, right?
But to take advantage of this, we – as a community – need to have open minds and the flexibility to adapt. In the words of noted author, educator and management consultant Peter Drucker:
“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence – it is to act with yesterday’s logic.”
Just as we adopted immediate measures to ward off COVID-19, positive steps like the Cambridge City Council’s June 8 emergency legislation to close streets three days a week and expand outdoor dining brings our tourism industry relief.
Our small businesses need the community’s continued support so they can re-open and welcome our guests with all that Dorchester offers.