It’s refreshing to see the folks involved in the tourism industry being candid about what’s happening these days in the hospitality industry, specifically on the local front.
In the past, no matter what was going on in Ocean City and the economy, nobody told the truth. The idea was hide the reality and make it seem like Ocean City is busier than ever, even if it’s the furthest thing from the truth. It seemed to be the universal approach. The comments at last week’s Economic Development Committee (EDC) meeting confirm that mentality has changed.
Mayor Rick Meehan addressed the proverbial monkey on Ocean City’s back at that gathering of tourism minds. During a recent media tour of major markets, Meehan said the affordability issue continually surfaced. “The perception of being pricey is out there and there is no denying it,” he said. “What we need to do now is acknowledge that perception and begin addressing it.” Clarion Hotel owner and EDC Chair Dr. Leonard Berger said the message needs to get out about the bargains available in Ocean City even during the summer. “There really is not a better time to come to Ocean City. There are bargains galore. The message we have to get out is that Ocean City is a great value,” he said.
The tourism folks are correct when they say the affordability issue needs to be front and center. It needs to be the subject of a major ad campaign. Prospective visitors need to understand this is a diversified place with a lot of options as far as spending pleasure. The public needs to be educated and that’s why proper marketing is so essential. Clarifying this damaging perception that Ocean City is not affordable should be the subject of a new advertising campaign. We would have preferred this message sounded loud and clear than the current satirical campaign.
Those in attendance at the EDC meeting seemed to concur on the affordability issue’s importance and efforts are underway to tackle what we view is a misconception. The numerous vacation packages being offered during the height of the season exemplify the point. Many of these are reasonable and include lodging, amusements and dining. The new concept this year is to tie gasoline gift cards to room nights as many hotels are offering a certain dollar amount in fuel for each room night booked or to offer gas money with the purpose of $50 or more in select merchandise. That’s wise because soaring fuel costs are forcing some folks to cut vacations, and it’s on the minds of everyone.
Putting aside the outrageous price at the pump these days, our feeling is Ocean City can be a pricey vacation, but any vacation destination can be expensive. It’s all about personal choice and perspective. Some people think $300 or more per night is expensive for an oceanfront room, while others have no problem spending that kind of money for water views and sunrises. It’s worth it to them. It’s about the individual. Some folks would rather pay $150 per night at an oceanside hotel or even less for a less desirable spot. It’s consumer choice. You can come to Ocean City and not spend a lot of money. There’s plenty of ways to be creative and many businesses are using packages as a way to entice visitors.
What’s clear is most people are not aware of what’s happening in Ocean City. The perception is it’s expensive. Just as that view did not develop overnight, it will take time and money to address and hopefully change that opinion. This should be the focus of the town’s next million-dollar ad campaign.