OCEAN CITY – Although demoflush numbers indicate that Ocean City has enjoyed three straight record weekends, other numbers are not quite as optimistic as the resort trots into the early June doldrums.
Memorial Day weekend joined the previous Cruisin’ and Springfest weekends in the Ocean City record books, at least as far as demoflush numbers are concerned. Over 270,000 people were estimated to be in the resort last weekend, but the room tax revenue numbers seem to tell a bit of a different story.
“While demoflush is reportedly up, room tax and gross room revenues are not, which probably means that there are lots of folks in condos they own,” said Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association (OCHMRA) Executive Director Susan Jones. “Many previous vacationers are now condo owners, which is why we lobbied so hard to increase advertising to try to target new markets to generate new vacationers.”
Jones said that food and beverage tax on the other hand is up over $21,000 through March of this year, when compared to last year, which could mean that more people are treating themselves when they get into town, even if they are staying in condominiums rather than hotels.
Buxy’s Salty Dog owner Doug Buxbaum said he’s not quite buying the warm and fuzzy picture of the season thus far that the demoflush numbers are portraying.
“Our Memorial Day numbers were pretty much right where they should be, but as for the other weekends, I’m not quite buying the rosy picture they are painting,” said Buxbaum. “People are really watching their dollars, and although it’s great that people aren’t denying their family a vacation, it doesn’t mean they aren’t going to spend conservatively when they get here.”
Buxbaum says the room tax and food and beverage tax numbers are a better way to gauge how things are going in Ocean City. He said the numbers indicate that people are buying food and drinks and taking them back to their condos or hotel rooms.
“Don Hastings from the Liquor Control Board told me that his stores are doing great, but the bars are way down,” said Buxbaum, “but I’m still cautiously optimistic about the season, and if gas stays below $2.50, we should be okay.”
Jones also said that hotels were seeing an influx of last-minute hotel bookings, and despite being happy with the business, operators are having a tough time catering to the consumer patterns thus far.
“For example, on a Monday morning, hotels may be 50-percent occupied for the weekend and then Thursday and Friday slammed with reservations and end up 85-percent occupied, so this makes it very difficult for them to forecast and how to staff correctly,” Jones said.
Councilman Joe Hall, who also owns and operates Hall’s Restaurant, said that the numbers from Memorial Day weekend were “better than anticipated, but not as good as hoped.”
“Everyone is working on a smaller profit margin this year, because everyone has to offer discounts to stay competitive and get people in the door,” said Hall. “It’s exciting that we are getting those numbers, but in my 40 years of working in the restaurant business down here, it all comes down to the weather. Good weather saved us last year, so I’m going to be on my knees praying for good weather this year.”
Another aspect that brings these record demoflush numbers back to reality is the fact that June is historically a slow month for local businesses and the next three weeks in Ocean City will be what Buxbaum calls “one-day-a-weeks at best,” describing the number of days in a week that businesses can expect to be busy.
The first few weeks of June are always tough in Ocean City, especially after the three ramp-up weekends that just came and went, but Buxbaum said that the lack of consistent business really hurts the seasonal workers in Ocean City.
“It really hurts the summer help,” said Buxbaum. “They are pretty much our midnight to 2 a.m. crowd, but they have to really watch the money they spend, as does everyone right now.”
Travis Wright, owner of the Shark on the Harbor in West Ocean City, said that even in these tough times, his 26-percent jump in business on Memorial Day weekend compared to last year, has him feeling extremely optimistic.
“Granted, it’s only our second season in this particular location, but unless things go really sideways, we are projecting that we are going to have our best year in 10 years,” said Wright.
Jones remained optimistic that June would compete with past years, perhaps on the back of many special events that are planned in the resort, including the OC Air Show, Beachfest, the AVP Pro Volleyball tour, the Firemen’s Convention, the Geico Power Boat Races, the Ravens Roost Convention and next week’s OCHMRA-sponsored Restaurant Week.
Jay Knerr, owner of the Kite Loft on the Boardwalk, said that his numbers have been strong all season and he was a bit more than cautiously optimistic.
“The last three weekends were extremely good and I certainly believe that trend will continue,” said Knerr. “So my prediction for the year is that it’s going to be rock solid.”