OCEAN CITY – Councilman brent Ashley questioned this week Ocean City’s lack of involvement with Canada’s tourism market.
Last week Councilman Brent Ashley had asked for an update on Ocean City’s Sister City Program, which began with President Eisenhower in 1956.
Sister City International is a non-profit organization that creates and strengthens partnerships between the U.S. and international communities, working to build global cooperation at the municipal level while promoting cultural understanding and stimulating economic development.
Ocean City joined the program in 1996 partnering with Finale Ligure, Italy and in 2006 with Parnu, Estonia.
“Annapolis has a sister city in Canada, as does Myrtle Beach … the U.S is the most visited destination for Canadian citizens and I know they are going right on by Ocean City without stopping here,” Ashley said. “We are missing out on the Canadian tourism market.”
Ashley said years ago the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce had a program to target Canadian tourism that seemed to work fairly well. At the time, Ashley said chamber members were asked to fly Canadian flags to show appreciation for the Canadian visitor.
“It would be a good idea if we expanded our exposure to the Canadian tourism because I think we are missing a lot of business,” Ashley said.
Ashley asserted that Ocean City is becoming more of a weekend destination than weekly.
“Our weekends are strong and during the week it gets weaker, so it seems the further people have to come to visit the more likely they will stay for the week,” he said.
Interim City Manager, Mayor Rick Meehan said an update on the Ocean City Sister City Program will be looked into as well as the possibility of adopting a sister city in Canada.
This week Ashley pointed out to The Dispatch that many of Ocean City’s competing resorts are already involved with the Canadian tourism market.
In early February, the Cape May County Department of Tourism released that a $20,000 Canadian marketing grant was awarded by the New Jersey Department of State, Division of Travel and Tourism to promote Jersey Cape as part of a multi-media advertising campaign.
Virginia Beach has offered Canadians an extra day of vacation for free with a six-night stay.
Earlier this month, Myrtle Beach celebrated its 51st Annual Canadian-American Days by offering free events, giveaways, discounts and concerts. The event draws as many as 100,000 Canadian visitors.
“This is a huge market that we are definitely missing out on and I don’t know why,” Ashley said on Wednesday.
Jeff Allbright, owner of Allbright Motel, urges Ocean City to have a stronger presence with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and other advertising mediums.
“I use to have friends that come down from Canada that would stay and what is happening now is all of their friends are going to Virginia Beach and they are bypassing Ocean City,” he said. “When they were here, they loved Ocean City so we have to try to get them back again.”
Allbright suggested for Ocean City to build an International Week. The week could include discounted hotel prices and restaurant specials to attract international travelers. He added that a good time for the campaign to take place would be towards the end of the summer when business starts to slow down.
“It will take time to build that business up. It isn’t going to happen overnight but you have to start somewhere,” he said. “We are a resort and we want to get as many people as we can here. We have a beautiful town … I have been to a lot of beaches and we have one of the prettiest beaches around.”
Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Melanie Pursel said there was an effort from within the chamber to form a partnership with Canada some years ago but it never panned out.
Currently, Ocean City distributes its Visitors Guide, a magazine outlining all that the resort has to offer, to multiple locations in Canada. There is also a local presence at golf trade shows in Canada.
This week the OC Experience, a traveling consumer trade show booth, was approved by the Mayor and City Council and one of its stops will be the Travel and Vacation Show in Ottawa, Canada.
“To have a large campaign like the Sister City Program is different and worth looking into,” Pursel said. “Making a stronger effort to create awareness about Ocean City I think is important. Any market we can reach where there is a potential to turn over visitors.”
Pursel explained that such a campaign would take extensive research as well as funding, which isn’t easy to come by these days.
“The research needs to be done, so I would imagine if the council likes the concept then the staff and the partners, such as the Chamber and HMRA [Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association], would help go out and research it and see what the possibilities are and come up with a program,” she said.