The Year that Wasn’t: TEAM Maryland partners discuss 2020 and their ‘Hope’ for 2021

“I am most looking forward to having the Hope of sports and group events returning in 2021”

Mayor’s Cup Pickleball Tournament Participants, Annapolis
(Photo: Visit Annapolis Instagram)

One year ago this week, representatives from tourism organizations across the state gathered in the mountains of Western Maryland, to celebrate the 39th Annual Maryland Tourism & Travel Summit at Rocky Gap Resort in Allegany County. It was a particularly exciting event for the Maryland Sports Commission, as our Executive Director Terry Hasseltine was honored with the Maryland Association of Destination Marketing Organizations Partner of the Year Award. It was a rare opportunity to catch up with some of our TEAM Maryland partners all in one place, while also networking with individuals outside of the sport tourism industry – whose organizations can serve as incredible partners as we promote communities and towns to Events Rights Holders and National Governing Bodies.

Looking back on the event, there is one particular moment which now stands in stark contrast to those three days of festive celebration. Attendees were able to sit in on a presentation by esteemed economist, Anirban Basu, Chairman/ Chief Executive Officer of Sage Policy Group and host of “The Morning Economic Report” on WYPR radio in Baltimore. Basu warned that the economy – with its exorbitant and sustained levels of growth in the years following the Great Recession, combined with low unemployment rates nationally – was bound to come to a halt. Going on past indicators, some sort of slowdown was inevitable, as economic trends and history showed that such rapid growth was bound to come to an end. As Basu asserted, it was just a matter of what would be the cause of that slow down, when it would happen, and how much of an impact it would have on the overall economy.

Anirban Basu
(Photo: Maryland Tourism Council Facebook)

Looking back on such a dire prediction – which might have felt a little out of place for the setting – now feels like an ominous warning, although no one – including Basu himself – could have predicted what would happen in the months that followed.

Tourism, sport tourism specifically, has always managed to find a way to remain afloat during economic uncertainty and fluctuating markets. “Throughout the Great Recession of the early 2010s, sport tourism was one of the few industries that remained strong, and even saw tremendous growth in some markets,” said Terry Hasseltine of Maryland Sports. “Generally, when times are tough, parents want to give their children a sense of normalcy and that can be done through sports. And I think that’s what made this whole scenario so complex – not just the disruption of normalcy and the inconveniences that have come with it, but the catastrophic loss of so many loved ones, and the impact that has had on families and communities in our state, in our country, and across the globe,” Hasseltine added.

In an October op-ed for The Baltimore Sun, Chris Riehl President of the Baltimore Tourism Association detailed the devastating impact that COVID-19 has had on the tourism industry at the state and national levels:

“According to the U.S. Travel Association, tourism is the nation’s second-largest export, and in Maryland alone, tourism and hospitality account for over 150,000 jobs. But recent data paint a bleak picture. Experts predict a total economic loss of $1.2 trillion in the tourism and travel industry in 2020. That’s far greater than the impact of 9/11. Unemployment in this sector is estimated to be hovering right around 50%. During the darkest days of the Great Depression, nationwide unemployment peaked at about 25%. This truly staggering statistic means that roughly 75,000 Marylanders working tourism jobs have found themselves laid off or furloughed for seven long months with no end in sight. Additionally, nearly 95% of our state’s tourism businesses are small businesses.”

Riehl remained optimistic and echoed a common theme that we discuss in our own daily virtual meetings, and when we check in with our partners across the state and our friends in the industry… that being Hope.

We reached out to our TEAM Maryland partners to get a better idea of how COVID-19 has impacted their organizations, how they’ve adapted, and most importantly – how they plan to continue to move the state of Maryland, and their communities, forward, through sports.

What are some of the ways in which Covid 19 impacted events (or your office) this past summer?

Eric Teisch, Visit Howard County: We have been working (and continue to work) remotely since March. We have been fortunate to keep our staff intact. Recreation and Parks cancelled a majority of events for the end of March – all of April, and May. In June, though, they started to get back on track.

Kelly Rados, Worcester County Recreation & Parks: Our biggest cancellation was The Great Inflatable Race that was scheduled for June. We were fortunate that we were still able to hold a Drive-In movie and Laser Show (which was a huge hit). Participants and the community were very thankful for the opportunity to get out and do something but still being able to social distance themselves from others.

Cornhole at Henry Parker Athletic Complex in Salisbury
(Photo: Wicomico Rec., Parks & Tourism Facebook)

Cole Lacey, Wicomico Recreation, Parks, & Tourism: Since the shut down in March, and continuing through this winter and beyond, we have postponed or cancelled nearly 30 events that would have resulted in nearly $40 million in economic impact to the (Lower Eastern) Shore.

Sandy Turner, Cecil County Tourism: Numerous equestrian and fishing events were impacted. The Fair Hill Races, Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill, Ike Family Fun Fest, amateur fishing tournaments and more were cancelled.

Elizabeth Joyner, Visit Annapolis & Anne Arundel County: Due to travel restrictions and quarantine rules from certain states, there was less participation in tournaments and events. Spectators were limited to immediate family members. The annual Navy vs. Notre Dame matchup which was rescheduled to be played in Annapolis was canceled due to COVID. We’re just now starting to see small groups of fans allowed at Navy Football games. The Sail and Power Boat shows, respectively, were both canceled in Annapolis due to COVID. These are all the largest events that we have every year.

How have you/ your office had to adjust/ adapt so that events fall within the guidelines enforced by your area/ the state?

Eric: We still work remote, we are not meeting in person. That being said, we did hold our Annual Meeting in person. We utilized a parking lot at one of our Recreation facilities and created a “Drive-In” event. September was slower for tournaments, however, the calendar was full on the weekends for October and for the rest of November.

Newly installed Pickleball Courts in Worcester County
(Photo: Worcester County Rec. & Parks Facebook)

Kelly: We have had weekly meetings with our Health Officer in order to make sure we are compliant with the CDC rules and that we have their approval in programs/events for when we begin moving forward. We’ve had to put more measures in place to enforce physical distancing, limiting large gatherings, keeping directional flow of people in order to not have them congregating in a given area. We have also put extra cleaning and sanitation methods into practice.

Cole: We have never worked closer with our local health department, emergency services department and parks department to ensure all of our events are following all national, state and local guidelines.

Sandy: The Mike Iaconelli Upper Bay Celebrity Pro Am Fishing Tournament was able to happen in modified status with COVID protocols in place. They had to eliminate pros, spectators, the festival, pre and post celebrations.

Chesapeake BMX in Severn
(Photo: Visit Annapolis)

How did/do you work with Events Rights Holders to make accommodations/ arrangements for events?

Eric: Due to limited availability of fields, our Recreation and Parks team tends to re-book past events due to the experience they have. Because of this, they already have contacts for accommodations. 3rd party housing companies are mostly used with the bigger tournaments. I have tried to reach out to the Rights Holders that have multiple events to offer my services, but have not heard back. There are a few occurrences when the Rights Holder goes through Recreation and Parks first before connecting to me. We do have a great relationship with (Maryland’s Own partner) Elite Tournaments who host about 10 tournaments in Howard County each year. They sent out a Welcome Letter to their teams on our behalf.

My virtual meetings have had the same attendance as the in-person events, however, it has opened up the opportunity to many attendees that would not/could not attend in person.

Kelly: For tournament/event holders, we ask them to provide their guidelines. We review to make sure they are in-line with our policies and follow all guidelines given to us by our Health Officer.

We held a Virtual Health Fair and Virtual Harbor Day in place of these two events. The Health Fair was typically held in September and Harbor Day in October. Honestly, the public’s involvement was lackluster but our vendors/sponsors were very appreciative and more apt to come back next year for the in person event.

Competitor in Pemberton 24, Wicomico County (Photo Wicomico County Rec., Parks, & Tourism)

Cole: At this point the most important thing that we have had to do with our Events Rights Holders is ensure they are aware of all guidelines for our county. We work with each event to develop specific COVID guidelines to their events that need to be signed off on before an event can take place.

Are there any changes made as a result of Covid that you might keep whenever we are able to return to “normal”?

Eric: At this time, it’s really hard to say. I would say that hand washing stations will probably be an area of focus, but we have not confirmed or made a decision on that yet..

Kelly: In regards to sports/tournaments, I think the proximity separation of parents from the field and/or location to the team area have been beneficial to the coach/player relationship and development.

Has the response to Covid allowed your office to put in place any new protocols or measures that could be utilized for any future health emergencies?

Eric: Yes, personal care and awareness is paramount. For all of us, how often in the past would we have tried to battle a cold through the workday? That will no longer be the case.

Kelly: Staff communication and support is at an all time high. Teleworking has really allowed us to explore new meeting options and programs and learn how to effectively communicate at a distance.

How are you approaching fall and winter events, especially for events that are held indoors?

Eric: At this point, fall and winter events are on track and our outdoor fields are primarily booked. Indoor event guidelines have not been seen yet but with less teams traveling you might see games spaced out to hopefully have less congestion during games transitions.

Kelly: We have been working with our local Health Officer and other jurisdictions to put together protocols and regulations for indoor events. Each one will have to be looked at individually. We spent a great deal planning for our Annual Track or Treat event in October and are looking forward to the Turkey Bowl Pickleball Tournament in November.

Maryland 5 Star team at Fair Hill in lead up to 2020 Virtual Event

Cole: We’re approaching the upcoming season with a sense of cautious optimism. We trust that if we follow all guidelines set forth that we can still run safe and successful events.

What are you most looking forward to for 2021?

Eric: Hope. I am most looking forward to having the hope of sports & group events in 2021. Attendees will slowly grow bigger as we know and learn more. Travel perception is slowly growing which will lead to the need for events. They may look different, but they will be back and we will get back together. The other thing to look forward to is less screen time! We have spent more time on virtual meetings than we have in all the previous years of our tenure combined.

Kelly: The resurgence of outdoor special events. People will be itching for live entertainment and festivals. If COVID is under control, I see a huge spike in event planning.

Cole: A new level of comfort as we continue to press forward and pivot to successfully host our current events and develop new ones for our area.

Sandy: We are hopeful that the Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill and the Fair Hill Races will both happen and we look forward to being part of the planning process.

Marjorie Hampson, Enjoy Baltimore County Tourism: We’re looking forward to when the PGA FedExCup Playoffs BMW Championship comes to Caves Valley Golf Club, Owings Mills in August and the World Lacrosse Women’s World Championship comes to Towson in July. We also are looking forward to a time where we can again see all of our TEAM MD members and staff in person and not muted on Zoom!

Elizabeth: The economic impact loss from the cancellations of these large events is devastating. At this point, we just keep hoping for the best and try to capture as many “drive-distance” tourists as possible. I think we are all looking forward to 2021.

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