OC Officials Studying Central Booking System

OCEAN CITY – The proposal to add a central reservation system to the town’s website has quietly settled down but officials assured the City Council this week it has not been forgotten.

At this week’s work session, Tourism Director Donna Abbott presented an update on the town’s accommodations webpage on Ocean City’s website, OCocean.com.

“I wanted to give a heads up that the issue had not been forgotten or gone away. We are still trying to move forward with at least getting more information before we come back and discuss it further,” Abbott said.

In April, Ann Hillyer of OceanCity.com, proposed RezEZ, a central reservations system for booking hotels to be used from the town’s website, OCocean.com, and Ocean City’s Facebook page. The system would cost nothing to the town and was ready to be launched.

According to Hillyer, RezEZ will make the town’s site the number one stop for value, saving the hotels money and allowing Ocean City to brand the system.

One of the perks is that the system will provide data to be used to re-evaluate advertising efforts by tracking bookings, segment the market to more effectively promote different areas of town, as well as gather email addresses and booking habits of Ocean City visitors.

The goal is to reduce lodging rates by having the hotels participate with RezEZ, which will charge a much lower percentage in commission, and in return Ocean City will increase its value in comparison to competing markets.

At a follow up meeting in May, the Mayor and City Council agreed to not move ahead with a central reservation system at that time but to revamp OCocean’s accommodations page instead.

Also, a plan was made to schedule a meeting with stakeholders to gain their opinions and recommendations in moving forward with one central reservation system on the site or not.

This week Abbott reported a meeting was held on May 10 with Mayor and then Acting City Manager Rick Meehan and a focus group of hoteliers and vacation rental operators to hear their thoughts about establishing a central reservations system on OCocean.com.

According to Abbott, the group felt that it was not critical to move forward with a central reservation system at that time but to take the time to do it right with further study and discussions. It was also recommended that a Request For Proposal (RFP) process be planned to select a vendor should the decision be made to have such a system.

The group also decided that part of that study should include a visitor survey on ococean.com to determine what visitors are looking for in reservations functionality. The visitor survey is currently in design and should be functional by July 23. Data will be collected through Aug. 18, analyzed and reported back to Ocean City by the agency in September.

Abbott reported that the accommodations page on the city’s website has been redesigned to be more user friendly.

The drop-down menu providing the selection of accommodation categories has been eliminated and icons have been added.

“The icons are easier to understand. When you click on something, it comes right up … it has become really easy to use,” Councilwoman Mary Knight said.

Abbott concluded that the group came to a consensus that the inclusion of the RezEz service on the Tourism Department’s Facebook page would not be fair to vacation/condo rental operators who cannot participate in this system and therefore should not be approved to proceed.

Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association (OCHMRA) Executive Director Susan Jones submitted that the common consensus and the goal of all hoteliers is to guide the visitor to book directly on the individual hotel’s website to avoid paying excessive commissions.

The association’s opinion is to use the $5 million used promoting OCocean.com as resourceful as possible and that the recent redesign to the accommodations page is user-friendly and should achieve this goal.

Jones furthered that with the room tax dollars promoting the town’s website, OCHMRA felt it would not be fair to allow one company the ability to make a profit without the project going through the RFP process.

Jones concluded that if the decision is made to have central reservations on the town’s site, the association’s Board of Directors would like the OCHMRA to be given the opportunity to manage that particular section.