Funding, Yes; Events, Oh Yes

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It’s no secret: it’s not the best of times in the world of tourism in the Ocean City area.

Sure, there are still hundreds of thousands of people here on the weekends, roads in Ocean City are bustling, some hotels have no vacancy signs illuminated and the top restaurants still have waits during the peak times, but the hospitality industry is coming forward in an unprecedented fashion to make their pleas for help in the way of funds to bolster the promotion and marketing of Ocean City to improve the state of affairs for the three “R’s” – rooms, restaurants and real estate, the pillars of the local tax base.

The tourism industry is changing and Ocean City is trying to keep up with regional competitors. The cost of being in the industry has increased with rising property assessments and power prices topping the expense list, and the fact is there’s more viable competition than ever for the disposable income of residents in the mid-Atlantic states. There’s only so much money available to spend on leisure and vacations and people have more affordable options than ever these days.

For roughly the same amount of money it takes to spend a week in Ocean City, people can take a Caribbean cruise out of Baltimore, book a large oceanfront home with friends in the Outer Banks or travel to the Bahamas for an all-inclusive trip. The competition is vast and organized and that’s a big reason why tourism folks are seeking funding support from the Ocean City Mayor and Council and the Worcester County Commissioners. Both government agencies pledged their support, but we have to wonder whether it’s too late for this fiscal year since both budgets have been already ratified.

The argument being made by tourism representatives is Ocean City is being outspent by other tourist destinations from a marketing standpoint. They are asking the local government bodies to beef up their ad budgets to help the town’s ad agency boast the benefits and uniqueness of visiting Ocean City far and wide.

If spent in the right markets and with the proper messages, more money on advertising and marketing will bring increased exposure to this resort. However, throwing money at the problem is not the only answer. We also believe there needs to be some strategic thinking here, mainly directed at creating more reasons for people to come to Ocean City this time of year. One visitor we spoke to recently put it well: “I would never bring my family to Ocean City in June.” Right or wrong, many people feel that way.

Ocean City tourism folks need to understand more people are visiting these parts in the shoulder seasons mainly because of the planned special events. Sure, some come to play golf or attend a convention, but the main reason people are here in the offseason is because there’s an event of interest, such as Cruisin’, Springfest, Sunfest, the Seaside Boat Show, Winterfest of Lights or the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, to name a few. The same applies to the summer. Last weekend was busy in Ocean City and the powerboat races, the shark tournament and the city-sponsored art festival played a part.

Whether it’s big-name concerts, large beach festivals or kids activities, there has to be a draw to Ocean City. There always has to be a reason to come to Ocean City, even in the heart of the summer. The days of relying on the beach and Boardwalk to bring the people to Ocean City are gone because of the increased competition and higher costs to vacation here. The creative minds in the local tourism industry need to put their heads together and come up with some events for the peak summer months. They can be sponsored by area chambers of commerce or other trade associations, and the money tourism officials have been seeking in recent weeks can be used to promote them outside the resort area. That coupled with a surge in general advertising could produce the desired results.

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