Like troops on the eve of battle, shopkeepers, hotel, motel and restaurant owners from the Shenandoah Valley to the Eastern Shore are anxiously watching the shoreline for signs of the new enemy -- the recession.
Many resorts ard vacation areas throughout the region are still licking the wounds suffered last summer.
Some areas did better than others, but everyone agrees that gasoline was the common enemy last year.
As the crucial July 4th weekend approaches, indications are that gasoline supplies will be plentiful although motorists will be paying more to get where they want to go.
The American Automobile Association found that 71.4 percent of the stations it surveyed would be open on the Fourth, 19 percent were undecided and 11.1 percent said they would be closed.
The gasoline battle last year taught many some hard lessons and forced local tourism officials to rethink their strategies.
This is a greter emphasis now on group travel as a means of helping travelers beat the high cost of vacationing. Travel and tourism officials in some cities such as Baltimore are offering vacation packages, while others are joining forces with nearby cities to create a regional approach.
There also seems to be a greater awareness that people may not be traveling as far to get to their vacation spot and may want to stay longer when they arrive.
Betty Bupp, director of tourism for Washington County, which includes Hagerstown, said that the area's historical attractions and rural flavor are making it a popular vacation spot.
"We see them coming here as an alternative to going greater distances," Bupp said. "They're looking for a place closer to home, not because they're worried about gas. They just don't have a lot of money."
Bupp said that many people are incorporating Gettysburg, Washington County and Harpers Ferry into a two - or three day trip.
"The whole concept of travel and leisure time has changed," she said.
Another trend has been the extension of the traditional Memorial Day-to- Labor Day vacation period to include some of the "shoulder months" in late spring and early fall.
"We think more Marylanders will travel in the state of Maryland as opposed to attracting a lot of visitors from distant states," said Wayne Kennedy, assistant tourism director for Maryland.
Although gas prices are higher than they were at this time last year, Kennedy predicts a 10 percent increase in automobile travel throughout the state. "I expect less airline travel because of soaring fares," he said.
"We recognize the importance of close-to-home travelers," Kennedy said.
In a major effort to sell the state and add to its $2 billion-a-year tourism industry, Maryland will soon be the subject of television and advertisements in the Washington and Baltimore markets.
Kennedy hopes to persuade some of the visitors to the nation's capital to spend a day or two in Maryland.
Kennedy said that the state experienced a good year in 1979. "We don't see any dimunition this year," he said. "You will see more and more couples traveling together and people will stay longer in one place rather than move from place to place."
In the District tourist business volume in the first five months is off about 6 or 7 percent from a year ago, according to Austin Kenny, executive vice president of the Washington Concention and Visitors Association. He expects that trend to continue into the summer even though there should be a good volume of convention business.
"We are hopeful that the decline will not deepen and there will remain a reasonable volume of visitors," he stated.
During the first quarter of this year attendance at national parks in Delaware, the District, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia was up 2.4 percent over the year before, according to the results of a survey by the U.S. Travel Data Center. Attendance at private attractions in these states was up 25.2 percent, while the number of people visiting state parks declined by 9.9 percent.
The center also found that 40 percent of Americans are planning a summer vacation this year and that the cost of travel rose a modest 0.6 percent during May.
In Ocean City, officials are betting on continued good weather and no interruption in gasoline supplies to bring vacationers to the resort city in record numbers.
Last summer, while other resort areas were crying the blues, business at Ocean City was up 13 percent over the previous year. That increase was due to the resourcefulness of the city's mayor, Harry Kelley, who bought a gasoline station to ensure motorists that they would have enough fuel to return home.
"It was a gimmick and it worked," said Kelley, who said he has bought another station and more gas.
So far this year Mayor Kelley says business is up substantially -- people are staying longer and advance reservations are greater.
One key business barometer is room tax figures. From January through May, the city's 127 hotels and motels, which total about 6,000 rooms, paid $214,618 in taxes compared with $180,563 for the first five months of 1979.
"It seems reservations on the whole are up 40 percent over last year," said Marty Bachelor of the Ocean City Convention and Vistors Bureau.
Bachelor said that more and more business are opening earlier and staying open past the summer months.
Figures on hotel, motel and condominium rentals during 1979 show that the three highest monthly increases were in January, November and March, all off-season months.
"We must have done something right," said the mayor.
According to Bob Willis, director of tourism for Baltimore's Office of Promotion and Tourism, more out-of-towners than ever are coming to Baltimore -- due in large part to a brand new convention center and Harborplace in the city's inner harbor which is scheduled to open next week.
Willis' office is working very closely with bus companies and the airlines to bring more large groups to the city. "in the past two years tourism has grown dramatically," he said. "Things that were originally prime attactions, like Ft. McHenry, Lexington Market and the B&o Railroad Museum, are almost secondary attractions to the inner harbor."
Willis has ound that many conventions are staying longer and that the weekend hotel volume is up. "I wouldn't be surprised to see hotel figures this year up 23 percent over last year, and last year was a good year," he said.
In Virginia, where the $2.4 bilion-a-year tourist industry is the second largest in the state, a survey of 60 vacation points around the state by the state Chamber of Commerce, showed that as of May business was generally ahead of last year.
Gasoline will not be a factor this year, said Allan Davis, director of travel development for the chamber. "It looks as if retail dealers will be open in good numbers on weekends," he said.
"We're getting a lot of people from Maryland and Pennsylvania who would have gone further south than Virginia.
Davis said that there is more cooperation between different regions of the state. "Smart marketers realize that they have to see the area."
One such region is the Virginia Beach-Williamsburg-Shenandoah Valley "historic triangle" area.
Davis said that Richmond is attracting tourist by selling its location within a day's drive of the mountains and other places of interest.
"This is kind of a new way to promote one city by promote the offerings out-of-town," he said. "You put local pride aside to boost local business.
"From what I can see, I think it's going to be a good year for the travel business. A lot of Virginia travel business people have been looking at new ways to keep attractions and logings filled up. Virginia hotels have really been going after the convention business in a way they never did before. The bus industry is being very much courted by the Virginia folks."
Wendy Lindquist, travel representative for the Delaware State Travel Service, said that in the next decade "certain regional centers will be developing. The Delmarva Peninsula is one of those centers."
The shore area should complement other areas of the state," she said."We are trying to think of a way to bring people to the beaches in the middle of the week and bring them north in the weekends."
At Rehoboth Beach most hotels and motels are booked all the way through the summer and into September and October, according to Adel Vignola, outgoing executive director of the Chamber of Commerce. She expects 125,000 visitors during the fourth of July weekend.
Places like colonial Williamsburg are now putting on special events during the "shoulder" months to get vacationers during these traditionally slower times. "The recession won't hurt us nearly as badly as the gas shortage did," said Randall Foskey, director of the press bureau for colonial Williamsburg. "We don't see any change in the percentage of people coming from Ohio, California and Michigan." About 60 percent of the one million visitors to Williamsburg every year come from beyond a 300-mile radius.
Virginia has embarked on a heavy advertising compaign in newpapers and magazines, on television and radio.Some of the markets the campaign is aimed at include New York, Pensylvania, New England, Canada and the Ohio Valley.
Officials at Virginia Beach have an advertising campaign of their own which is being beamed to potential tourists within a 400-mile radius of the city. According to Jim Ricketts, tourist development coordinator for Virginia Beach, tourist revenues during the month of September are up 160 percent over the last four years since the ad campaign began.