Garrett had only growth in Maryland tourism during pandemic

The Garrett County Republican

McHENRY — While Garrett County has experienced a boom in tourism during the COVID-19 pandemic, the rest of Maryland is struggling to recover.

While the state’s tourism industry as a whole experienced a 64% decline during the pandemic, Garrett County actually posted a 36% increase from pre-pandemic levels, according to Liz Fitzsimmons, managing director of the Office of Tourism for the Department of Commerce.

“Garrett County was the anomaly,” Fitzsimmons said. “The only region, the only county that was able to do this.”

In 27 years with the Office of Tourism, Fitzsimmons said the Office of Tourism never had to go before any group and say that there were decreases. That changed in 2020, when the industry was dealt a severe blow.

Sales figures for overnight stays in hotels, motels and rental units are key indicators of the state of tourism, she said, as those visitors spend money in other areas, such as food, entertainment, recreational activities and retail items.

For the category of hotels, motels, apartments and cottages, sales figures for the 2021 fiscal year totaled $56.05 million — a 56% drop from pre-pandemic 2019’s $128.6 million. For hotels and motels selling food, the results were even worse: from $35.4 million in 2019 to $10.7 million in 2021. That constitutes a 69.7% drop.

The Garrett County Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual tourism update Tuesday morning at its Business Before Hours meeting, hearing from state officials just how hard the pandemic hit Maryland recreation.

“I last attended this meeting two years ago,” said Tom Riford, assistant secretary of the Department of Commerce’s Division of Tourism, Film & the Arts. “What a different world it was two years ago to today. Just totally, totally different.”

Riford said tourism is the fourth-largest industry in the state, employing people, providing tax revenue and helping the quality of life.

“Maryland’s tourism industry was especially hard-hit in March of 2020. And the last 20 months has seen the tourism industry working together to move forward to get to the other side,” he said. “I’m very proud of what was accomplished in this county in 2020, and in 2021. You led the state.”

The Wisp Resort’s ski school in 2021 had its best year since it opened in 1955, he said.

In continuing with the Autumn Glory Festival through the pandemic, Garrett County “has shown many other jurisdictions that it can move forward, and move toward a positive tomorrow,” Riford said.

Garrett County’s accommodation sales would have been even higher, but Gov. Larry Hogan had ordered the closing of hotels and motels at the start of the outbreak. When they were allowed to reopen, rooms and houses throughout the Deep Creek Lake area were rented almost immediately. Many were people who were seeking to leave areas of Maryland and Virginia that were experiencing early rises in COVID-19 cases.

That has spilled over into the Garrett County real estate market, where home sales have been strong for months, with houses now averaging $431,461.

However, those same eager visitors now have other options, Fitzsimmons said, with borders reopening and international travel now possible.

Six of the 10 richest counties in the United States are located in Northern Virginia, she said, and those are the customers that Garrett County needs to continue to attract — even as options such as Europe are now available again.

“They are the people who helped drive these increases,” Fitzsimmons said, encouraging business owners to reach out and continue to develop the relationships they’ve developed with visitors during the pandemic.

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Jay Ferguson

Who I Am My name is Jay Ferguson, and I am a lifelong resident of the Deep Creek Lake area. I am also co-owner of the real estate side of Taylor Made. I have been in the real estate business for 21+ years now and I LOVE what I do! I have to say, my career really took off when I co-founded the real estate side of Taylor Made in 2014. Its been an amazing experience, building a real estate company from the ground up and achieving so much so quickly! In August 2016, we purchased Long & Foster Real Estate Deep Creek, where I had started my career in 2000. In 2018, we on-boarded virtually every agent from Coldwell Banker Deep Creek Realty as they closed up shop and the real estate family grew even more! We now have over 40 sales agents and have expanded to West Virginia and Pennsylvania, as well. Taylor Made is the #1 vacation rental company at Deep Creek with over 475 vacation rental homes, and over one hundred thousand yearly visitors. Its amazing what we have accomplished using the principles of honesty, teamwork and customer service! Personally, my wife Jessica and I enjoy traveling and especially spending time in the outdoors, hiking and exploring the many diverse areas that Garrett County is naturally blessed with. We have raised two wonderful children here, Kayleah (22) and Noah (13). In the summer, we love spending time on the water with friends & family and enjoying the lake life! We are both active in our church, our community & local school activities, and we fill our schedule with plenty of volunteer efforts. I currently serve on the board of directors for Habitat for Humanity. I am proud to say that I was named Deep Creek Time’s Favorite ‘Community Champion’ in 2019. I was also named Garrett County Realtor of the Year in 2018-19, as well. I really enjoy promoting my hometown. I am very proud of the resort area that has developed over my lifetime and look forward to growing the area even more! Deep Creek Lake has been described as ‘The Lake Tahoe of the east', and I think that speaks volumes about the potential to own property here! Deep Creek Lake isn't really a town or city by itself; it's comprised of three towns: Oakland, Swanton & McHenry, Maryland. I am very passionate about my hometown and am impressed with how many people know about it as we travel around the country. Deep Creek Lake is an amazing place to visit and even better place to live! During the pandemic in 2020, our market exploded and more and more people left their primary residence in the city to live here permanently. With distance learning in schools and tele-commuting becoming the ‘norm’, many more people were drawn to the area to ‘live where they love to play’. Why You Want Me Working for You: In addition to being an owner, I am consistently one of the top-producing agents in the entire area and the Associate Broker of record for Taylor-Made Deep Creek Vacations & Sales. I have 21+ years of experience and I am a problem solver. There aren’t many situations that I have not encountered and I have a strategy for almost every scenario that you may encounter. I have extensively trained in all areas of real estate & emerging technologies, and also have trained as an appraiser, as well as served as a full-time Broker. I have a strong knowledge of the industry, as well as many trusted local contacts & affiliations that allow me to perform at a very high level and deliver results. I have a great deal of respect for my peers in this industry and have strong working relationships that I would love to put to work for you. Call me to discuss your situation - I know I can be of great service to you & others you care about! Honesty. Integrity. Results.