Council Vote On Gas Promotion Likely Next Week

OCEAN CITY – The concept to give away gas this summer to attract tourists to Ocean City has caused a bit of a stir amongst the Mayor and City Council as well as businesses throughout the resort.

During last week’s Mayor and City Council meeting, Councilman Brent Ashley proposed a discussion of a gas promotion to offer visitors a free gallon of gas for every night they stay in town to ease visitors into traveling the distance despite gasoline prices. Part of his initial proposal was to take $1 million from the fiscal year 2012 advertisement budget to fund the promotion.

During last week’s meeting, Councilwoman Mary Knight felt caught off guard by the gas promotion idea. Knight said this week she has spoken with business people who are not fond of the concept.

“I believe in ideas and I believe that ideas should be flushed out among all of us … I felt very blindsided once again,” she said.

Knight added that the price of gasoline is decreasing at this point as the summer season approaches. In a recent trip to Baltimore, she noticed that the gasoline prices were cheaper on this side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and even tossed out a concept for a promotional line such as “hey come on down and fill up in Cambridge instead.”

On Tuesday, Ashley said that he has talked to some of his fellow council members since he proposed the gasoline promotion discussion. He said at this point the direction of council members seem favorable to approve the concept.

“I am not saying the entire million dollars but there may be some room for wiggle there as far as redirecting some type of promotion along those lines,” Ashley said. “Nothing’s definite because it is still being talked about in the community.”

In opposition to the response Knight has received, Ashley said that he has had business people approach him saying they are “very much for this”.

“Things are very slow down here and they feel the advertising needs a boost,” he said. “So there has been some support for the idea.”

Ashley asserted that the gas promotion is really no different than the concept of a golf co-op that was proposed a couple of months ago. The Golf Co-Op Marketing Plan objective was to intensify the marketing of Ocean City as a desirable golf destination by partnering with Ocean City Golf packagers to increase related revenue to the town and increase rounds booked at the town-owned golf course Eagles Landing.

The marketing dollars that the eligible packagers match would double the investment made by the town resulting in extended reach, frequency and increased bookings. That concept deadlocked at a 3-3 vote.

“It’s funny because some of the council people that have been the most adamant against the gas promotion have been the most adamant on the golf promotion,” Ashley said. “They had no trouble voting to reallocate money for golf but they have problems to reallocate it for gas.”

Ashley added that a gas promotion would reach more people than a golf promotion would. He also pointed out that the golf rounds are “up” in ocean city and the number of visitors is “down”.

“The gas idea may seem a little different promotional wise but put Ocean City in the forefront of trying to bring tourists here and I think it is an excellent idea and I think if we don’t do it somebody else will,” Ashley said.

Mayor Rick Meehan said yesterday he does approve of the golf promotion but he does not support the gas promotion. He said that the golf co-op would be beneficial to Ocean City and the golf industry as a whole because it projects an increase in golf rounds at Eagle’s Landing Golf Course from to be as high as 40,000.

“If you look at that in dollars that’s about $225,000 to $250,000,” the mayor said. “It would be a good business decision and I think we are supposed to make good business decisions.”

In regard to removing money from the advertising budget to put toward a free gas give away, Meehan said that budget has already been “very well planned, thought out, and approved.” He said that there hasn’t been any thought towards where exactly the $1 million would be removed from in the advertising budget.

He explained that the funding for the golf co-op would only reallocate a certain amount of money that has already been assigned towards golf advertising. In doing so it would increase the dollar value of the golf advertising fund.

“It is not changing or taking money out of the advertising budget,” Meehan said. “The co-op will be increasing the value in the exposure we will get for the same amount of money.”

Instead of focusing on high gas prices, Meehan said the council should be focusing on positive exposure such as special events like Restaurant Week, the Air Show and the Dew Tour.

“Why would we want to accentuate the negative?” Meehan said. “Let’s let people know the good things about Ocean City. What we can do to add value to their vacation.”

Ashley said that during next week’s budget discussion he will make the motion to develop a free gas promotion for this summer season. He wants the council to “think outside of the box.”

“It [gas promo] is gaining traction,” Ashley said. “Tourism has been my whole life so it’s not like I don’t know what I am talking about. I’m not coming off half-baked. I’m not in business anymore. I am retired so my proposal doesn’t benefit me other than being a taxpayer … it’s not self-serving in any way because whatever benefits the town benefits everybody.”