Summer Provides Reason For Guarded Optimism

OCEAN CITY – While the jury is still out for the most part and there is a good chunk of summer-like weekends on the calendar this month, Ocean City business leaders this week started tearing into some of the early numbers on the 2010 season and their general feeling appears to be one of “guarded optimism”.

At their first meeting following the hectic summer months, the town’s Economic Development Committee (EDC) members asked Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association Executive Director Susan Jones on Wednesday to provide a brief snapshot of some of the leading economic indicators in the resort.

“I think the one thing we can all agree on is that we had amazing weather all summer,” she told EDC members on Wednesday. “Out of all of the other factors, the summer weather is probably the most important and we certainly benefited from that this year.”

Jones said her conversations with business owners in the association revealed mixed reviews on the summer. As in most years, some said they thrived, others said they simply held their own and some said they continued to struggle.

“Depending on who you talk to, some did better than others,” she said. “In a broad sense, I’d say most of the business owners have a sense of guarded optimism and many believe things have turned around and are heading back in the right direction.”

Jones told EDC members certain truisms held up this summer as people continued to travel to the resort despite the still sluggish economy. She said the new breed of Ocean City vacationer is Internet savvy and thrift-minded, but the resort’s promotional and marketing teams were aware of than and prepared for it.

“Value is going to remain in vogue,” she said. “People are waiting until things go on sale and they know how to shop around for it. It seems those who are doing better are taking a close look at their product and their price structure.”

Jones said a key economic indicator for the summer season in Ocean City has always been the room tax totals. She said the numbers for June were “flat” and that July was “fantastic.” However, she tempered her enthusiasm for July by pointing out there were five weekends in the month this year compared to four last year. Jones said the final room tax numbers for August have not been finalized, although the early data suggests it will turn out considerably better than last year.

Ocean City Tourism Director Deb Turk said the August room tax numbers would provide a clearer picture of how the summer went for most resort businesses.

“The numbers are very strong indicators of what August will bring,” she said. “Once we get the August numbers, we’ll do a complete season survey. By that time, we’ll have a real sense of how the summer went.”

Jones said one concerning trend that continued this summer was the shrinking average length of stay for vacationers visiting the resort. Long gone for most are the traditional Saturday-to-Saturday vacations and the recent trend of extended weekends appears to have continued this summer. She said the average reported stay this summer in the resort was 2.7 days.

“That’s a trend we’ve been facing for some time now,” said Jones. “The booking window seems to keep shrinking, and it’s something we need to figure out how to address.”

CUT IF NEEDEDJones said Ocean City continued to outpace the state average in lodging tax percentages. According to industry data, the demand for accommodations in Maryland increased by 7 percent across the state, but improved by 9 percent in the Ocean City-Chesapeake region, which includes Annapolis.