OCEAN CITY – A firm has been chosen to move forward with crafting a five-year tourism strategic plan that officials hope will be completed in advance of next year’s marketing campaign.
In December, the Town of Ocean City called for bids to bring in a strategic plan facilitator to help city officials and stakeholders lay out a five-year roadmap for Ocean City tourism.
Crafting a tourism strategic plan was recommended by the Tourism Commission back in August when Ocean City Tourism Director Donna Abbott explained for the past three years $40,000 has been budgeted as a line item in the tourism budget to work with Equation Research, which is a full-service strategic research agency.
Three years ago, an Equation Research study was conducted regarding Ocean City’s Rodney the Lifeguard marketing campaign. Last year, upon a suggestion by MGH Advertising, the town’s marketing company, the town decided to use the budget allocation toward purchasing additional media buys. In the fiscal year 2014 budget, Abbott kept the line item in, thinking a study should be conducted every other year.
During last Thursday’s Tourism Commission meeting, Abbott announced eight bids from strategic plan facilitators were received that included a variety of different approaches in how to assist Ocean City as well as a wide variety of price tags.
“We had hoped to come well under our $40,000 budget, and there were a couple that were just under that threshold but there were others that were double and triple that amount,” she said.
In speaking with City Manager David Recor, who was the lead in the town’s strategic plan process last year, it was decided to approach Lyle Sumek, president of Lyle Sumek Associates, Inc., in gaining his services once again. Sumek completed the town-wide strategic plan last year that outlines goals and priorities for the town moving forward.
In return, Sumek submitted a proposal that reportedly came in half the price of the lowest bidder of the original RFP for a tourism strategic plan.
“He [Sumek] has come back with a very competitive price, and he would not be starting from square one,” Abbott said. “He knows Ocean City and he spent a year working with all of the department heads, Mayor and City Council, and the community, and we really felt that he could lead us to what we are looking for, and that is a five-year marketing plan.”
Recor, who worked with Sumek in his former post in Fort Pierce, Fla. as well, added Sumek has experience in working with other regional resort communities, such as Virginia Beach.
“He [Sumek] is aware of several key tourism components in Ocean City, such as our regional sports partnership with Wicomico County, and has some ideas in advancing that initiative,” Recor said. “This is his business, this is what he does, and I think the primary difference in what we saw is his skill in facilitating this process was the outcome-based process as opposed to just giving us a plan … at the end of the first year, you are going to be able to look back and see accomplishments as we did with the town.”
The purpose of the tourism strategic plan is to engage the members of the Tourism Commission and other key stakeholders in developing a five-year strategic plan for tourism and a one-year action agenda work program, Commission Chair Council Secretary Mary Knight outlined, as well as define outcome-based tourism goals with performing standards and measures, to establish a tourism framework and tools to assist in making decisions and investments including target markets and guests, to develop a tourism work plan for one year, and to institutionalize a tourism strategic planning process with a monitoring and recording mechanism.
The timeframe for the tourism strategic plan calls for a final presentation by October. Ocean City is currently finishing production of this upcoming summer season’s advertising campaign with its advertising firm, MGH. The tourism strategic plan will focus on the summer of 2015 and forward.
Tourism Commission members and business stakeholders will have their work cut out for them as Sumek will interview individuals one-on-one as well as in group sessions to question and gather information that will eventually come together in a final product.
A tourism profile with be a key piece to the final strategic plan, Abbott said, in learning who Ocean City’s visitors are and how to reach them.
“It will be good information to have. A plan in moving forward where year to year we can revisit it, tweak it and use it as guideline in improving tourism in the future,” Abbott said.
The commission was in consensus to move forward with Sumek facilitating the tourism strategic plan process. The Mayor and Council had already previously approved Sumek in a closed-session discussion.
“What impressed me is he doesn’t put thoughts in your head,” Councilman Dennis Dare said, recalling the process for the town’s strategic plan as a whole. “He grew it out of you and works hard to draw thoughts towards success out of everybody.”