Tourism Summit Fosters Positive Outlook for 2010

OCEAN CITY- The outlook for 2010 is projected to be on a mild upswing after a bleak 2009 in the tourism industry, even though many local leaders continue to point out that the resort community fared much better than most.

Ocean City hosted the annual Maryland Tourism and Travel Summit last week at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center and welcomed a number of speakers who, as expected, went into great detail about how much the lagging economy played into 2009 being less than a stellar year in the world of tourism.

Yet, many local leaders left with a lot of positives and new ideas for 2010, and one of the ideas could be kick-started into the development stages as soon as next week, according to Ocean City Hotel Motel Restaurant Association Executive Director Susan Jones.

“A couple of the speakers talked about the shift in the market from prestige to value, and said that the Starbucks mentality, as they called it, is over for the time being and people want value the most,” said Jones. “Next year, they are projecting a moderate improvement in the tourism world and that’s a positive thing.”

The other thing that Jones took from the summit, in addition to receiving the Tourism Person of the Year Award, was the need for the town to come up with a good branding idea in order to build off solid advertising campaigns in the past few years.

“We’ve had campaign after campaign, and we’ve had some good ones mind you,” said Jones. “But we haven’t had a true brand in Ocean City since probably 1996 when ‘Let Yourself Go’ was used.”

Jones said that next week, she and tourism director Deb Turk, as well as several other members of the tourism community will be meeting with MGH Advertising President Andy Malis to talk about ideas to improve the town’s brand, or more accurately, to create a new one.

Although MGH Advertising’s ‘More Fun Here’ campaign had hoped to become a brand for the town several years ago, it was abandoned and changed to the current Rodney campaign, which tells people to get to “OC-ASAP,” but as Mayor Rick Meehan pointed out, the campaign is supposed to draw people towards the town and its brand.

“The ad campaign is really only to focus and drive people to the destination and your brand, so even though we’ve had some brands in the past, we need to come up with one that is direct and to the point, but still gets the desired message across all in one little catchphrase,” he said.

The common consensus with many in the town of Ocean City is that any brand created for the town needs to incorporate the word ‘family’ into the mix, as the town has prided itself on being a family friendly resort for decades.

Meehan says however, that finding the right message that caters to not only the nostalgic traditional visitors and the modern visitor looking for cutting edge amenities is a slippery slope to try and maneuver.

“We have to try to find a niche that says it all for the town of Ocean City, and we have to realize that what we come up with is probably not going to please everyone,” he said. “Sometimes you lean toward tradition and you lose the newer audience and vice versa, so we have to walk that line while still differentiating ourselves from our competition.  It’s a lot of work for a few words but I think we can find the right ones.”

Meehan said that if he leaves a convention with one or two memorable thoughts to ponder, he considers it a success, and he noted that he left with a handful of good ideas for the future.

“One of the speakers said that we needed to make sure that our website was mobile-friendly as more people are accessing the Internet through their phones, and that makes perfect sense for them to utilize our website while they are on vacation and they are on their Iphones or blackberries,” said Meehan.

Ironically, when the Dispatch spoke to Andy Malis after MGH won the recent advertising agency review, he said that one of the new ideas for the upcoming season was to essentially develop an “app” for mobile phone users to access and use the town’s new website while they are in town, maximizing all the cross marketing techniques used on www.ococean.com.

Governor Martin O’Malley spoke at last week’s tourism conference, handing out several awards and called the state ‘America in Miniature,’ pointing out that Maryland offers so much for visitors to enjoy.

“We know that when it comes to growing smarter and more sustainable as a state, our choices are all connected,” said O’Malley. “So as we work toward a more sustainable future, we can extend these principles to our travel and tourism industry.”

O’Malley also touched on the state’s new Maryland Green Travel Program, which is a voluntary program to help businesses find better ways to run a more environmentally sound operation.

In the end, most thought the conference was a success, but in the short term, the idea to better brand the town of Ocean City, or rather, what the brand should be, might be the most debated topic in the near future amongst local tourism heads and elected officials.

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