Visit Baltimore, formerly the Baltimore Area Convention & Visitors Association (BACVA), is a quasi-public organization started in 1980 by then-Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer. The agency is charged with bringing in tourists and conventions into the city of Baltimore, Maryland, but does not manage the actual convention venues, hotels, or museums in the city.
In 2004, BACVA launched a totally redesigned website. A major event for BACVA in 2004 occurred in May when it officially opened a totally new Baltimore Visitor Center. This was radically different from the old visitor center, which was inside an antiquated modified construction trailer. The new 8,000-square-foot (740 m2) Baltimore Visitor Center is located next to the Light Street Pavilion of Harborplace and has a unique design. It cost $4.5 million to construct. In its first year of operation (May 7, 2004 – May 7, 2005), the center attracted nearly 390,000 visitors, which exceeded BACVA's original estimate of 250,000. Visitors to the center in its first year of operation booked 422 hotel rooms, worth $48,296, and bought 14,942 tickets worth about $223,286.
Inside the Baltimore Visitor Center are racks of brochures with information ranging from Baltimore's neighborhoods to major attractions, including the Maryland Science Center, the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Power Plant Live!, Camden Yards Sports Complex, and Geppi's Entertainment Museum. There is also a 50-seat theater that shows an 11-minute film on Baltimore and Maryland.
In 2005, BACVA made a joint effort with the Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC) to pitch a controversial $305 million, 752-room Hilton Hotel to the Baltimore City Council in an attempt to bring in more conventions to the Baltimore Convention Center. In 2006, BACVA succeeded in its joint effort with the BDC to have a Hilton Hotel built directly adjacent to the Baltimore Convention Center. The hotel officially opened in August 2008 with a direct connection to the Baltimore Convention Center via elevated skybridge crossing Howard Street.
In 2009, BACVA made a decision at its annual meeting to change its name from the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association to Visit Baltimore to make it easier for the public to recognize Baltimore's tourism agency and that it followed an industry standard at the time of having tourism agencies have a name that reflect their mission.
Since the 2005–2008, efforts to bring in more conventions by having the Hilton Baltimore built at a cost of $305 million, making it the most expensive public works project in city history, was basically a failure and the city is still losing convention business and is struggling to find more business. Visit Baltimore is now supporting an estimated $900 million proposal floated by the Greater Baltimore Committee and local businessman and the current owner of the Sheraton Inner Harbor hotel in early 2011 that would build a brand-new 18,500-seat arena to replace the 1st Mariner Arena, a brand-new 500-room hotel to replace the Sheraton and demolish and rebuild the east half of the Baltimore Convention Center as an expansion of the more newer, 1996 half. The hotel and arena would be funded by private-sector money while the convention center expansion would be funded by public money; it's unknown what the breakdown of costs will be as that will be determined by a second study to be conducted soon[when?] that will continue to see if construction of the entire project is feasible and exactly how much the project would cost the city and state potentially and what the next steps will be.
By 2013, tourism in the city had grown to the point where it was hosting 23.9 million visitors, who were adding $5.15 billion to the economy.
- Visitor center exceeds expectations in Year 1. Baltimore Sun May 6, 2005. (Site registration required.)
- "Tourism Agency Unveils Name Change at Annual Meeting". Visit Baltimore. July 30, 2009. Retrieved 2010-01-04.
- "Baltimore convention business is crunched for space – City faces stiff competition from surrounding cities". September 19, 2012. Retrieved October 23, 2012.
- "1st Mariner Arena turns 50 amid calls for its replacement – Financing still being sought for replacement arena project". October 22, 2012. Retrieved October 23, 2012.
- "Visitor arrivals to Baltimore jump more than 12 percent". Baltimore News.Net. Retrieved 29 July 2014.