OCEAN CITY – It was decided during this week’s City Council meeting that potential visitors will be welcomed with a more user-friendly accommodations page on the city’s website to enhance their experience in Ocean City.
Last month, Ann Hillyer of OceanCity.com, proposed RezEZ, a central reservations system for booking hotels to be used from the town’s website, OCocean.com, and Ocean City’s Facebook page. The system would cost nothing to the town and is ready to be launched, according to Hillyer.
Ocean City’s website currently does not feature a central reservations system. It has a page where accommodations can be made through a drop down menu by selecting individual properties or individual reservation systems but searches cannot be done by date as well as prices cannot be compared.
According to Hillyer, RezEZ will make the town’s site the number one stop for value, saving the hotels money and allowing Ocean City to brand the system.
One of the perks is that the system will provide data to be used to re-evaluate advertising efforts by tracking bookings, segment the market to more effectively promote different areas of town, as well as gather email addresses and booking habits of Ocean City visitors.
The goal is to reduce lodging rates by having the hotels participate with RezEZ, which will charge a much lower percentage in commission, and in return Ocean City will increase its value in comparison to competing markets.
“This isn’t traditionally an item we would have brought up in April 2012 but we did discover that there had been a contract entered into, which didn’t have the city manager’s signature yet to allow for a sole source to have an exclusive reservation system on our Facebook site, and as I said at the last meeting I certainly thought this is a policy decision of the Mayor and Council,” Interim City Manager/Mayor Rick Meehan said this week.
Entering into the meeting, opinions had been submitted on the matter, including the town’s advertising agency, MGH.
Andy Malis of MGH agreed that the accommodations section of the town’s website could use some improvement and referred to its current configuration as “clunky” and recommended the addition of a reservation system.
“It does not provide an easy, natural way to compare not only accommodation features, but also room rates as well,” said Malis comparing the webpage to travel sites such as Orbitz and Expedia.
Malis envisioned revising the page to allow users to choose either the current method to search for a specific property or the new reservation system to easily compare features and rates.
Communications Manager/Interim Tourism Director Donna Abbott explained that since MGH’s opinion had been submitted the concept of adding a central booking system has become more complex.
“On the surface, it may seem simple but it is creating a lot of feedback and I would request that we have more time to study it,” she said. “The season is just getting ready to start now. If we can maybe eventually take a look at reconfiguring the accommodations page … so that it is accessible and user friendly for both the visitor and the hotels, and fair to all of our marketing partners, I think that is the first step to take.”
Councilwoman Mary Knight asked that future discussions on the matter be held with the town’s lodging partners — hotels, motels and rental units.
“It would be nice if we could schedule a meeting in the fall and have the hotel/motel people come in,” Council President Jim Hall said. “I think it needs more study and more time …”
Councilman Brent Ashley and Joe Hall did not agree. Ashley reminded the council that Hillyer’s system is ready to go and it would not hurt to give it a try this summer.
“There is significant savings that is attainable now for the hotel property owners and condo renters, and the people that would be involved in this,” Joe Hall said. “Not to mention increase our competitiveness with other destinations. I think it behooves us not to wait a year.”
Discussion ensued revolving around different formats and options the town’s accommodation webpage could take on to be more user-friendly.
In the end, the council agreed to revamp OCocean’s accommodations page. The drop down menu will be eliminated and the user will have access to the individual properties and reservation systems immediately as they enter the page.
“Options will be much easier to locate,” the mayor explained on Wednesday. “The first step is to make that page more user-friendly.”
In the immediate future, the town plans on meeting with stakeholders to gain their opinions and recommendations in moving forward with one central reservation system on the site or not.
“In the long run … a focus group of the businesses will discuss what they really think, what most benefits them, and talk through it, also with what is more beneficial to visitors,? Meehan said.