09/05/2012 07:34 am ET Updated Nov 05, 2012

Tourism An Important Pillar Of Growth For Urban Economies

As thousands of Democratic National Convention delegates descend on the great City of Charlotte, North Carolina, mayors across the country are reminded of just how important our convention, tourism and hospitality industries are for our local economies.

In Baltimore, we have made smart investments in tourism to promote our city as a desired destination for large conventions, sports fans and the casual weekend traveler. These investments have had major impact on the city as a whole and the well-being of all of our residents.

The economic impact of tourism is real. In 2011, Baltimore hosted 22.3 million domestic visitors -- up from 21.3 million in 2010. Despite the tough economy, in 2011 visitor spending was up 7.2%, to $4.75 billion, after a spike of 8.1% in 2010. What's more, Baltimore's tourism industry generated close to $1.2 billion in taxes and fees in 2011 -- including $250 million in local taxes.

All of these numbers are impressive, but not at all as important as the 73,000 local jobs supported by visitors to Baltimore. In total, approximately 7% of all jobs in Baltimore are sustained by visitor spending.

Decades ago, what is now a crucial pillar of Baltimore's local economy was virtually nonexistent. A revitalized Inner Harbor began as a dream of visionary civic leaders in the 1970s. These leaders, standing against opposition from cynics and obstructionists, believed that Baltimore could transform its working-class industrial waterfront, which had suffered job losses and factory closures, into a world-class tourist destination with premier hotels, attractions and restaurants.

No longer spotted with rotting docks, vacant buildings and empty parking lots, Baltimore's downtown and waterfront are now a destination for tourists and local residents alike. Today, our public waterfront is a space that everyone can enjoy and be proud of.

Over time, investment in the renewal of our waterfront also helped spur additional major development, including new housing and office buildings. And nearby neighborhoods experienced renovation and renewal.

More important, because of this transformation, Baltimore created a new sector of its economy that, over the years, helped stem the loss of jobs resulting from global pressures on American manufacturing and from corporate mergers and consolidations that have affected many of our nation's medium-to-large cities. Tourism remains a strong, growing and important pillar of the local economy.

Today in Baltimore, our job is to keep it that way by building upon these earlier investments and keeping them relevant going forward. Our strategy to support our tourism and hospitality economy includes new, exciting events that draw not only out-of-town visitors but also our own residents and visitors from surrounding jurisdictions.

In 2012 alone, we hosted a number of major public events that attracted hundreds of thousands of new visitors to our city: Artscape, the nation's largest free arts festival; the annual African American Festival, the largest cultural festival of its kind on the East Coast; our annual 4th of July Fireworks show; and the Star-Spangled Sailabration, a week-long tall ship festival celebrating Baltimore's pivotal role in the War of 1812.

This year, the capstone to the summer was Labor Day weekend's Grand Prix of Baltimore, which featured IZOD IndyCar Series and American Le Mans Series racing on the streets of Downtown Baltimore. Hotels and restaurants were busy. This event has the added value of sports broadcasts that present our city's waterfront and downtown to more than one million U.S. viewers on major TV networks and even more sports fans in 75 different countries.

Each and every one of these events was a great success that was built on Baltimore's tourism brand. For current and future residents, these dynamic events remind us that there is nothing better than living in a great American city -- and in their own unique way, they contribute to our goal to grow Baltimore by 10,000 families over the next 10 years.

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is the mayor of Baltimore. Her e-mail is Twitter: @MayorSRB.

This post is part of the HuffPost Shadow Conventions 2012, a series spotlighting three issues that are not being discussed at the national GOP and Democratic conventions: The Drug War, Poverty in America and Money in Politics. Check out the Shadow Conventions big news page here, and join the conversation at HuffPost Live.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this piece misstated the number of viewers that were able to view the Grand Prix on television.