OCEAN CITY — The resort’s tourism director informed the Mayor and Council on Monday she is resigning her post in favor of a local private sector job.
Tourism Director Deb Turk, who will be joining Comcast as a local sales manager, will leave the city March 1. Her announcement this week has resulted in the city now having three vacant department head positions. The city is currently looking for a new convention center director after Rick Hamilton’s recent resignation and a new city manager after Dennis Dare was forced to resign last September.
Turk, who has been with the city since 2005 and became tourism director in 2009, was quick to report in an interview the uncertain political climate did not influence her career move.
“Dennis’ decision was different than Rick Hamilton’s and mine. That was not by choice. Rick left obviously for much greater and warmer pastures [Tampa, Fla.], and this opportunity I would have never thought would have come along,” she said. “I feel compelled to support every city employee because it’s been very challenging for all of us. There’s been hiring freezes, reductions in force, no raises and yet I look around and I see dedicated, caring employees who are incredibly loyal and committed to this town. … To most people, this decision would have been a no-brainer, but I’m so committed to Ocean City it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be to leave. It’s a little bittersweet but this is good for me and my family.”
Turk feels the biggest tourism accomplishment during her tenure with the city was the room tax increase that resulted in millions of new marketing dollars.
“I’m really proud of the business community here and how they rallied to get the room tax change passed so we could have the budget that made us more competitive. That was a huge accomplishment for all of us and it positioned us well during really challenging economic times,” she said. “We have been current and our advertising plan is really smart.”
Turk pointed to landing the Dew Tour last summer and its planned return in August of this year as another highlight of her time with the city.
“I remember when it was in Baltimore and wishing so bad we could have something like that here. All that came to fruition and hopefully that will be a long-term relationship for the city,” Turk said. “I just got off the phone with them today and will be working them up until I leave.”
The city’s current intention is to replace Turk, despite a suggestion from the Tourism Advisory Board (TAB) recently to conduct an internal realignment and merge the convention center and tourism director posts into a new Convention and Tourism Development Director (CTDD). TAB has recently backed off that CTDD proposal, due in part to the council’s objections and the new performing arts center at the convention center requiring a full-time director to focus on advance bookings.
Prior to leaving the city, Turk will be soon working to update the tourism director’s job description to reflect current responsibilities.
“I can’t imagine it ever not being within the government structure,” she said. “In the state of Maryland, and I know the consultant talked about national trends, I know a majority of my peers are all government employees. It’s different titles, but it’s all tourism. “I will be working with the human resources director to revisit the job description, review it and update it and make sure it will attract the right skill set and is a better reflection of all the responsibilities of this job. This job has changed so much since I got here. The budget went from about $1.1 million … to about $5 million …”
TAB is hoping the city uses the job description process to tweak the tourism director’s role in the city. TAB believes a new vision is needed to guide Ocean City tourism by organizing, prioritizing and leading all tourism sectors toward a streamlined process resulting in increased visitors.
“We are happy they are going to be reviewing the job description. It absolutely needs to be reviewed because of the room tax. We are not where we were five years ago even. The position has to change,” Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association Executive Director and TAB member Susan Jones said. “Tourism should be driving our decision making. Tourism is our economy. At Maryland Tourism Day last week, it was said for every dollar, $43 dollars in tax dollars was returned.”
Jones said many in the local tourism industry will be closely following the city’s search for Turk’s replacement because it comes at a crucial time.
“We are at a crossroads in tourism. With the economy and the growth in the amount of rooms we have to sell as a city now, we have to figure out a way to bring more people here. It’s really critical that we take the time to dissect exactly what needs to be done and build a job description around what we feel needs to be done,” Jones said.
For instance, Jones said TAB has been advocating for the town to create a five-year strategic plan to guide the local tourism market.
“That’s our biggest complaint. We are just kind of rolling out there year by year. They do have a marketing plan, but there’s nothing saying this is exactly who we are going to go after and this is how we are going to get them. We need that and we don’t have it,” Jones said.