Tourism Summit Planned To Flush Out Future Direction

OCEAN CITY – While most agree Ocean City needs to take steps to increase its tourism marketing budget in an increasingly competitive market, not all agree on how the money should be best spent, but a Tourism Summit scheduled for next month in the resort could go a long way in determining a future course of action.

The Tourism Summit, co-sponsored by the town’s official Office of Tourism, the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce and the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association (OCHMRA), will attempt to draw all of those with a stake in the future of tourism in the resort together for a brainstorming session on how best to market the resort. Business owners, community leaders, elected officials and anyone else with a vested interest in the future of Ocean City is invited to attend the summit set for Oct. 15 from 1-4 p.m. at the Ocean City Convention Center.

With a current tourism marketing budget of around $1.7 million, Ocean City spends far less promoting itself as a destination than many of its rival tourist towns along the east coast. Steps have been taken to increase the budget, including dedicating a portion of a room tax hike to tourism marketing, which the Ocean City Council recently approved.

The measure now awaits the approval of the County Commissioners who ultimately hold the purse strings and distribute room tax revenue to the municipality. Resort business leaders have also pushed state and local elected officials to contribute more to the town’s tourism marketing budget, but in uncertain economic times, it remains to be seen if any more funding for tourism marketing is freed up.

If and when Ocean City sees its tourism marketing budget increased, business leaders want to be sure they are prepared with an orchestrated plan to spend the money. That’s the purpose of the tourism summit scheduled for next month. In each of the last three years, resort business leaders have gathered in the fall for a season summary, during which trends from the summer are analyzed, but the summit next month plans to take that a step further.

“For the past three years, we’ve done a season summary during which we pull in people from all segments of the business community to try to identify trends,” said OCHMRA Executive Director Susan Jones. “This is an effort to expand on that. We hope to be able to identify who is coming to Ocean City and what they’re habits are.”

The tourism summit will also provide an opportunity to unveil the results of a lengthy visitor survey conducted by the town’s independent marketing research firm over the last year and a half or so. The results of the survey should provide an accurate picture of who is coming to Ocean City, where they are coming from and why, what they are doing while here and how they are spending their money.

“The survey now has almost a full year and one solid summer under its belt, so we should be able to get a clear picture of our current target audience,” said Jones. “We think we have a pretty good idea about the demographics we’re attracting, but the survey results should confirm those assumptions. Once we know who our target audience is, we can determine how to best spend our resources to reach out to them.”

Jones said getting a clear picture of the current target audience is imperative when it comes to spending the town’s limited marketing resources. It could be determined that more money should be dedicated to reaching the demographic already visiting the resort, or it could be found the money would be better spent reaching out to a new demographic.

“This will give us an in-depth look at our visitors,” she said. “We’re trying to do a better job of figuring out what is really going on. Do we target the demographics we know are already coming to Ocean City or do we reach out to an entirely new demographic we may have ignored in the past? Those are the types of questions we hope to answer with the tourism summit.”

A blitz email sent out this week by the chamber in conjunction with the OCHMRA and the town’s tourism office urges business owners and anybody else with a stake in the future of tourism in Ocean City to participate in the summit. According to the email, “as the competitive landscape has become crowded with numerous destinations, we realize the state of transition Ocean City is experiencing. In this Internet economy, we must unite to sell an Ocean City experience.”

The email further states the time is right for the resort business community to be prepared if and when more funding is dedicated to marketing the resort.

“We have the opportunity to shape the future of tourism,” it reads. “Upon securing additional funding, it is imperative that we market wisely. However, we cannot do that without your input.”

To that end, summit organizers are calling on the business community to provide any and all information they have about their clientele including address lists for hotel and motel guests, which will help pinpoint the demographics of the tourists currently frequenting the resort. In addition, summit organizers are also asking participants to come prepared with information about trends, markets they feel they have lost or gained and markets they feel the resort is missing out on with its marketing plan.