City Council Throws Support Behind OC Experience

OCEAN CITY – The third time was the charm as Spark Productions’ concept, OC Experience, was approved this week along with its refined price tag.

Last year Spark Productions LLC presented the OC Experience as a tractor trailer sporting Ocean City’s brand, traveling to different tourism shows selling the town as a destination. The Mayor and City Council supported the idea but not the price tag, which was upwards of $270,000.

Last month Brad Hoffman of Spark Productions returned presenting a “tweaked” and much more nimble version of the concept — a travel booth.

Spark Productions has reduced the design to a 10-foot by 20-foot portable booth with many interchangeable pieces that will be used at any event the town would like to attend, such as travel shows, as well as events within Ocean City.

The travel show booth will gather data, such as email addresses, and use social networking sites. The goal will be to have attendees book their vacation before they leave the OC Experience.

The most important element to the booth is the email kiosk, which will snap a photo of a travel show attendees and place them in an Ocean City attraction, such as the Boardwalk or the beach. Participants will receive the photo by email.

Spark Productions’ proposal included it being the main production company that will manage, operate and promote the platform, but the city will own all assets of the OC Experience.

Last month Hoffman has requested a two-year commitment with the town paying Spark Productions a fee of $10,000 per event with a schedule of four or five events per year, which includes travel show registration and booth space. The estimated total budget for the project at that time was $180,000, which included construction of the booth, management by Spark Productions, travel expenses, event collateral and prizes/giveaways. Along with the travel shows, Hoffman offered to do four local appearances with the booth display at no cost.

At the Feb. 28 work session, the council passed a motion to direct the Tourism Department to work with Spark Productions, the Tourism Advisory Board (TAB) and the town’s advertising firm, MGH, to develop a final consensus on the OC Experience.

Interim Tourism Director Donna Abbott returned this week to discuss those meetings. A survey among Chamber of Commerce members and the Economic Development Committee (EDC) was also conducted.

“It looks like most believe that we should be doing this type of marketing promotion and TAB as well thought we should be doing this marketing promotion,” she said.

While researching the concept, Abbott attended the Washington Travel and Adventure Show at the Washington D.C. Convention Center on March 18. Abbott submitted that most of the booths were standard 10 feet by 10 feet and most had backdrops of photography. Only a few had video monitors or other interactive features.

“I came away realizing that we should be involved to a certain extent with these shows,” she said. “Virginia Beach was there, Atlantic City was there, North Carolina Outer Banks was there … but not a lot of bells and whistle.”

Abbott recommended pursuing participation in a small selection of shows in 2013 with Spark Productions and volunteers from TAB and business representatives on hand.

Abbott added the budget she figured for the OC Experience, including booth construction, show space and Spark Productions’ costs would run around $85,000.

“We will produce a booth that is going to be garnered with all types of excitement … it will be the hottest booth in the show and therefore the most successful booth garnering the results for Ocean City,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman added the booth can be minimized for different uses.

“To me, it is six words — no brainer, no brainer, no brainer,” Councilman Brent Ashley said. “Personally I don’t need a survey to see this is going to be a winner, and I particularly like the 10 by 20 [feet] idea.”

Councilwoman Mary Knight was excited about the economics behind the booth, saying, “I think that it is really important that the taxpayers understand that we went from $180,000 to $85, 000.”

Councilman Joe Hall said that OC Experience will diversify Ocean City’s marketing program.

“I look forward to seeing the positive results, and I think the flexibility of the booth to be utilized in many different ways in different sizes and different applications will be proved to be a tremendous asset for the town,” he said.

The council voted unanimously to move forward with Spark Productions and the OC Experience.

“If you guys are confident in us going out on the road, we will play to win and will garner the results,” Hoffman said.