Tourism Officials Review Summer Season

Joanne Shriner
Staff Writer

OCEAN CITY – Hotel, motel, restaurant and business associates of Ocean City gathered Wednesday to review the 2010 summer season.

“It is crucial that we continue to connect with one another and communicate and collaborate to make sure we have the best ideas in moving forward,” Susan Jones, executive director of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, said, “I think overall June was flat but July was great and August was good.”

Ocean City Tourism Director Deb Turk said the key to this summer was providing value to visitors.

“This summer we all realize people were looking for value and that was the message,” she said. “Collectively we all worked together very well to provide free entertainment, lots of deals and discounts on hotels, attractions, and restaurants. Value was king.”

According to Turk, room tax from May through August was up. Room tax revenues this past summer increased 6.1 percent, and food tax was up 5.9 percent, she seaid.

“Last year this time we wouldn’t have been able to boast these numbers, but we held our own last year in a very difficult economy. It is still challenging but we out performed last year,” she said.

The town’s website ococean.com had more then six million page views. The website drove 32,000 clicks to different businesses.

“Our website has exploded,” Turk said. “Everything we do on our advertising creates demand and is called to action, and we send everybody directly to our website.”

The top pages of ococean.com are accommodations, its homepage, things to do, dining and nightlife, events and the Rodney saves accommodations.

Three years ago, the budget for advertising was at $1.5 million and now it has increased to $4.2 million.

“When room tax increased, our budget has more than doubled,” Turk said. “We can do a lot more with those means.”

Those means have gone a far way in advertising through media for the town. Media purchases include radio buys, interactive, social, apps and print.

“It makes a huge difference to be able to go into very expensive key markets like New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and the D.C area and be able to have presence in those markets,” Turk said.

Interactive media includes banners on many different websites. The banners have made about 34 million impressions and have led to 53,325 clicks.

“We push the value,” Turk explained. “The Disney events and hotel week, everything we did we tried to cross promote.”

Media was able to promote Ocean City Hotel Week, which ran Aug. 22-Sept. 2. This time of the season is important to promote for Ocean City because it is the end of the summer, and the town wants to reach those families who have not entered into the school year yet and offer them discounts and deals on accommodations.

The Rodney Saves campaign turned out to be a big hit for the town. Rodney, a fictional Ocean City lifeguard played by an actor, is featured in different media forms promoting Ocean City and every thing it has to offer. The promotion had 4,500 clicks just over the short time of hotel week. The numbers of visitors to Ocean City have significantly increased since the Rodney Saves campaign was introduced.

Ocean City has more than 5,000 followers on Twitter, as well over 100,000 on Facebook, making it the top beach among other regional beaches on the social networks.

“I think because of our position we are always looking at other websites and we are always looking to see what other competitive destinations are doing,” Greater Ocean City Chamber Executive Director Melanie Pursel said. “It feels good to be well ahead of the competition. Everybody has worked together and have done a really great job.”

According to Communications Manager Donna Abbott, due to the advancement in public relations and media, there have been over 300 positive stories on Ocean City.  

According to Pursel, there are anywhere from 100 to 150 people a day coming through the visitor center during the busy season, and there are more visitors from New York and New Jersey then any year before.

“We do a great job of getting people here,” Pursel said. “But once they are here we have to deliver on that promise. Ocean City is free and friendly, fun, and a clean and beautiful beach. That we offer all those things that say were doing what we say were going to do.”

There were also less complaints this year then ever before. One of the most common positive remarks are that people are pleased with Ocean City because it is a free beach and it pairs along with free activities, according to Pursel. Other common positive feedback is the cleanliness of the town and the safety.

The most common question asked is, what is there to do on rainy days. Pursel and associates have urged people to experience Ocean City’s culture and charm of the Eastern Shore, for example by visiting the Ocean City Museum. She also urged other business associates of the community to do the same, that way visitors extend their stay.

Any negative comments are addressed immediately. One common negative response comes from those who come to Ocean City with RV’s or boat trailers. They are disappointed in how there are not many places for them to park their vehicles, besides the West Ocean City parking lot.

“We do sometimes have properties that don’t live up to the Ocean City reputation. So think as peers to some of those businesses we really need to help rally up the troops and encourage them to step up to the plate and make sure they are addressing customer complaints and making it a great experience because it reflects us collectively,” Pursel said.

Jones concluded the meeting in discussing travel trends.

“Traveling continues to be an American birthright, so people are going to find a way to travel,” she said. “It is a positive thing to know that beach and lake destinations are a number one choice for family travelers.”

Jones points out that peer-to-peer reviews are very important, and the way people plan to travel is continually changing. People want to get the best price.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to discount your prices,” Jones said. “Instead think about the value-added plan. Maybe you could add a free breakfast onto their stay … or stay three nights and get the fourth night free.”

Jones asserted that it is important the town continues to provide free family fun. Business owners need to take advantage of these programs and make sure they are marketing free events to their customers.

“The good news is there is less bad news. Demand is coming back, and frugality is going to continue to be the mentality,” Jones said.

“All in all it has been extremely positive,” Turk said. “I think everything is coming together. I think everyone is doing a great job but we can’t rest on our laurels. When we start to do well, we need to keep trucking along and make sure we stay ahead of the competition. Customer service is key.”

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