OCEAN CITY – There may be a change in the person in the head chair on the tourism commission, but do not expect a drastic change in the price of beds to lay your head on this season in Ocean City.
At last week’s monthly tourism commission meeting, Councilwoman Mary Knight was unanimously voted to be the new chairperson, unseating councilwoman Margaret Pillas, who has served for the past year.
In addition to the changing of the proverbial guard at the head of the table, the commission discussed some trends to watch for the upcoming summer, and though “value may be king”, rates may remain the same.
Jon Tremellen of the Princess Royale Hotel and the president of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association (OCHMRA) presented some findings from several industry reports and explained how that will affect Ocean City’s summer.
As MGH advertising gave its monthly report outlining how Ocean City will play up the value aspect of the resort this year to potential visitors, Tremellen thought that the OCHMRA should stick closely to that approach.
“Value is going to be king this year,” said Tremellen, “but we are suggesting to our members to hold their rates and play up the value of their products. You’ll gain no advantage by lowering prices because your neighbor will just do the same and this will lower spending for everyone.”
Tremellen said that other trends to expect would be that people would be staying fewer nights, spending less, and booking closer to their projected vacation times.
“If you think last year was bad for last-minute booking, you haven’t seen anything yet,” he said.
Tremellen stressed that lowering room rates would actually be more detrimental in the long run for local hotels.
“You need to maintain the rate integrity and some people are not going to do that, and they are going back to 2001 rates,” said Tremellen. “You are already going to do 3 percent less occupancy, and if you drop that rate too, it’s going to be a double whammy.”
Still, Dr. Lenny Berger, who serves on the commission and heads up the Governor’s Economic Development Committee, said that his outlook for the summer is a good one.
“I think this summer is going to be a very good opportunity for Ocean City, and I truly believe this is going to be a very good summer, but I do think it’s going to be last minute,” said Berger.
The fact that the town is spending more than $3 million on advertising seems to be one bright spot for an uncertain season.
“If you have the money like the town does right now, it gives you the opportunity to send a message, and a strong message at that,” said Tremellen.
Mayor Rick Meehan said that the advertising campaign is more vital this year than ever and should put Ocean City in a strong position for the future.
“We won’t be playing catch up when things turn around like everyone else will and that’s the key,” said Meehan.
MGH, in its proposal, said Ocean City “needs to put its best face forward” when marketing the town and the OCHMRA’s recommendation to its members seems to be not to change the face of the price-scheme of Ocean City despite the dire economic times.
As far as new faces go, Knight’s appointment to chairperson of the tourism commission is something that she says she’s wanted for sometime.
“It was quite a surprise, but tourism is my passion and I think I’m a good fit for the position,” she said.
Pillas, who hinted prior to the meeting that she expected to be unseated as chairperson, has vocally defended her desire to be a part of the tourism commission because she is the lone council member whose business is driven by tourism.
Pillas owns a boardwalk store and said she has always lobbied for the business community, and despite being unseated, she says she’ll give Knight nothing but support.
“It’s not about Margaret or Mary,” said Pillas. “It’s about tourism, and I won’t change my hat just because they took me off chair.”
Knight said that her “former life” experience as an account manager for AT&T holds as much value as being a local business owner.
“I had five major accounts that billed over $20-25 million so I can handle a large workload and meet profit margins and have a good understanding of a target audience,” said Knight. “I may never have owned a Boardwalk store, but I think my past experience is just as valuable, and anything I can do to bring more people to Ocean City, that’s what I’ll do as chair