OCEAN CITY — To say that Susan Jones was shocked to be awarded the state’s most coveted tourism prize last week is a vast understatement as she didn’t even know she was nominated.
Jones, who has held the position of executive director for the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association (OCHMRA) for 15 years, said she was scanning the room to figure out whom the speaker from the Maryland Tourism Council (MTC) was describing prior to awarding the state’s person of the year for tourism.
“I just kept looking around and thinking to myself, ‘it couldn’t be her, because she’s already won it, and it’s not him because the speaker keeps saying her,’” said Jones. “Then there was this moment where I thought to myself, ‘I think they are talking about me’.”
In what Jones called a “sneaky but very flattering move”, she was nominated in secret by fellow OCHMRA leaders Ruth Waters and Amy Tingle and given the award in front of hundreds last week at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center during the annual Maryland Tourism and Travel Summit.
Two other major professional awards were given to local tourism workers, as Lisa Dennis of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce took home the Professional of the Year and Worcester County Tourism Director Lisa Challenger accepted the Visit Maryland Award, along with several others including Jim Rapp from DLite for their work with the Worcester County Host Our Coast promotion project, which was praised for having a major impact on the area’s tourism efforts with seemingly little funding.
Dennis said she still can’t believe her name was called.
“Like Susan, I was totally shocked,” said Dennis. “It is just starting to feel like it’s a reality for me and winning the award in front of all of my colleagues totally rendered me speechless, and that’s not an easy thing to do.”
The MTC gives six professional awards and eight marketing awards to members nominated by their peers and/or employers. Recipients of the professional awards are honored for their skill, dedication and talent that bring professionalism to Maryland tourism.
Jones called the award her crowning achievement thus far in her career.
“This is such a huge honor and the people who have won this award before me I have so much respect for,” said Jones. “So to win such a highly coveted award and to be in the club with those people is a total shock but an incredible moment for me.”
Jones has seen numerous changes in the way tourism is handled both at the local level and at the state level in 15 years, and she says that tourism is finally taking its place near the forefront in being considered a substantial revenue generator for the state.
“When I first started, tourism didn’t get nearly the attention or the funding that it deserved, as it was kind of an afterthought,” she said, “but I feel that in the past several years, people are really starting to understand just how important tourism is not only to Ocean City but also the entire state and just how much revenue it creates.”
Jones said that she finally found her niche in the world of tourism, after going through five jobs in five years right out of college, including brief stints at the Sheraton in Annapolis and selling insurance prior to taking the job with the association.
Dennis said that she had been working for the Berlin/Ocean City Moose Lodge for almost 10 years before taking the position at the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce almost three years ago.
Mayor Rick Meehan applauded the three women for their achievements and noted the significance of having three of the six major professional awards given to those in the area.
“To have three individuals recognized is quite an achievement, and we should be very proud of what they have done for this area,” said Meehan. “Ocean City is certainly one of the leaders of tourism in the state and the ladies recognized last week help organize the efforts that are so instrumental in promoting all that this area has to offer. This success doesn’t just happen, but these ladies illustrate what it takes to make ideas and programs become successful.”