I write this letter to express just how shocked and saddened I was to hear about the proposed cut of $100,000 to the Town of St. Michaels’ advertising budget for FY 2022.
It should be obvious that 2020 was an incredibly hard year, both socially and economically. Amid necessary shutdowns and mass isolation, many local businesses struggled to stay afloat. Some never made it. Now, as safety protocols have been refined and the availability of vaccines widened, we can see some light at the end of a dark tunnel, and we should be looking forward to what could be a period of great recovery for our town. Instead, our local businesses now face a new concern—that a voting majority of our commissioners will not support our efforts to rebound to help the town that they were elected to serve. Instead, they ask St. Michaels businesses to shoulder alone the burden of economic recovery.
CBMM staff and our fellow members of the St. Michaels Business Association have all worked hard since the start of the pandemic to make sure we can accommodate guests, and to ensure those guests are, and feel, safe and comfortable when patronizing our establishments. We can’t say strongly enough how disappointing it is to know that those efforts might have been in vain.
Tourism is a vital part of St. Michaels’ economy—the commissioners even recognize that we are a town based on tourism. Look at the support provided by the collection of the accommodations tax alone and how much of a strain would be put on the town’s budget were that tax to come in severely lower than in past years. Why would we want to set ourselves up for that kind of struggle?
At the recent commissioners meeting, the sentiment was expressed that St. Michaels doesn’t really need advertising, because “everyone knows us already.” We are very familiar with that type of fallacy because what it means is that our efforts are working. But to be clear, the concept of “everyone knows us already” brand recognition is, more accurately, the result of multi-layered marketing efforts and investments on the part of the Town of St. Michaels, each of our local businesses, Talbot County, and Maryland Tourism, among others. People know us because they’ve seen our ad campaigns, because we’ve encouraged word of mouth recommendations, and because we have such a wonderful product to offer in a visit to St. Michaels. But attention spans are short and taking our foot off the gas now will inevitably allow people to forget about us and encourage them to plan their vacations and weekend trips to some other small town. And while larger organizations like the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum can and will continue to do our best to advertise our wonderful town, our smaller businesses will endure the worst of these cuts.
While we certainly appreciate the Town’s need to be fiscally responsible, this severe reduction in advertising spending will only place the challenge of bringing tourism dollars into St. Michaels squarely on the shoulders of businesses who have already been struggling to stay afloat. We only hope they will be able to continue to do so, should this foolish and shortsighted budget pass.
Kristen L. Greenaway
President & CEO
Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum