OC Restaurateur Named New Tourism Board Chair

OCEAN CITY – Shenanigans owner Greg Shockley says he used to look at tourism through “local eyes”, but after his induction as the new chairperson of the state’s tourism development board on Wednesday, he’ll not only be looking at a bigger picture, but he’ll also be fighting for a much larger entity.

Shockley took the reigns from Annapolis hotelier David Meloy as the new chairperson of the Maryland Tourism Development Board (MTDB) on July 1, and will essentially be the face of the fight for more funding (or at least similar funding) in Annapolis as the state faces growing economic shortfalls and more inevitable cuts.

In 2007, the tourism budget for the state was tipping towards $7 million, but since then, the number has dipped back down to $4.8 million, raising some concern the entire state’s tourism budget is closer to Ocean City’s ($3.7 tourism budget) than some of it’s neighboring and competing states (Virginia’s budget for tourism is almost $18 million).

Shockley, the third local in recent years to be chosen for the post, joining Dr. Lenny Berger and Michael James, hopes to “grow the amount of funding” but realizes that due to the economic times he’s going to have to work hard to simply hold the proverbial line.

“We are strictly protecting what we have now, but I think that we need to educate the general public and legislators about what a huge economic generator tourism is for the state, and I think if more people understood what an engine it is, it might even grow sooner,” Shockley said.

According to Margot Amelia, executive director of the State’s Office of Tourism Development, over 140,000 people are employed in the tourism industry in Maryland, and in salaries alone, tourism jobs bring in $3.8 billion.

“Tourism is the fourth largest industry in the state, and just think about those billions being reinvested into the state economy and spent in small businesses all over Maryland,” said Amelia.  “It’s staggering what an engine tourism is.”

The problem could be the perception of tourism, and the jobs that come from tourism, according to Shockley, who noted that some people in urban and suburban areas “just don’t understand” the lifestyle or the sacrifices made by tourism workers.

“Tourism jobs might not be the ones that attract the most attention in the state, but there are so many people that have gotten a start in restaurants and hotels, and these people make the engine run,” said Shockley.  “I’ve got six teachers that work for me in the summers at my restaurant just to supplement their income and make things work, but those with tourism jobs spend money and provide valuable tax revenue for the state and people need to realize that.”

In 2007 alone, the $13.6 billion spent by visitors in the state generated $1.7 billion in local and state tax revenue, according to Global Insight.

Thus, it’s been argued by many in the local community, including Mayor Rick Meehan, the state should be leery of cutting funding on a “revenue generator” like tourism, and most seem to repeat the mantra of “they just don’t get it” time and time again.

One could assume that “They” is the Annapolis lawmakers and legislators who end up allotting the money, but it should be noted that the legislator who holds “one of the top five most powerful jobs in all of the state”, according to Amelia, is none other than local Delegate Norm Conway.

“We are lucky to have Norm as the chairman of appropriations, not only for Ocean City, but for Worcester County as a whole,” said Shockley. “It might be the most important seat to hold in the budget process.  Basically, if Norm doesn’t feel like it, you won’t get any money.”

Amelia said that few people realize in the local community how valuable it is to have both Conway sitting in his position of power as well as Delegate and former Ocean City Mayor Jim Mathias in Annapolis.

“Norm controls the purse strings and Jim is an outspoken cheerleader for tourism in the state and for Ocean City,” said Shockley.

Still, the MTDB is a large committee of 24 members, some of which are appointed by the governor, some by the speaker of the House, and some by the president of the Senate.  In addition, the committee is made up of not only legislators, but also various members of business communities from all over the state of Maryland.

“If you put a small business owner in front of legislators or the governor, they will listen because small business is the engine that runs the train of the state’s economy, and it’s a very powerful voice,” Amelia said.

Although much of the fight for funding may have more to do with the economy than the singular efforts of Shockley or the committee, Shockley said he looks forward to the challenge and hopes to find new ways to do more with the dollars already allotted.

“What I’ve learned over the years being a business owner is that sometimes you get so focused to the little things that you are doing that you rarely step back and look at the big picture,}” said Shockley. “We aren’t in this to market ourselves, we are in this to market the entire state, so I hope my voice is heard loud and clear.”