OCEAN CITY – Most of the resort’s competition to the north will not be up to par this summer following the unfortunate damage left by Hurricane Sandy, and Ocean City tourism officials are cautiously looking to remind Jersey shore visitors what lies a few hours to the south.
Following a Tourism Commission meeting last Friday when the town’s advertising firm, MGH, presented recommended media advertising buys for the upcoming summer season, MGH President Andy Malis returned to the full Mayor and City Council on Monday evening after receiving consensus form the commission to move forward with the recommendations made.
Malis began by explaining he felt it was MGH’s responsibility to acknowledge the hardship New Jersey beach communities are enduring in preparing for the rapidly approaching summer season.
“After Hurricane Sandy hit … it has changed the marketplace for what we sell. My job is to look at selling Ocean City and the product that we have and it would be irresponsible for us not to look at it in those terms,” he said. “Believe me, all of us would be much happier if this never occurred to our neighbors to the north but it did and it is affecting the marketplace.”
MGH has completed extensive research of the New Jersey shore line and into New York, concluding there is a difference in the reconstruction progress being presented in the press versus reality.
“The truth is it is rough and they are not going to be competing as they normally do,” Malis said.
Rutgers University recently conducted a poll that showed 64 percent of those who identify themselves as regular Jersey Shore visitors plan to spend as much time at the shore this summer as they have in past summers, 30 percent of visitors that stay four days to a week regularly are planning to cut back and 6 percent are planning to spend less time to no time at all because of Hurricane Sandy.
“There are fewer restaurants open, there are fewer amusement parks open, there are fewer inventories of hotel rooms and condominiums that are available and that is all affecting the Jersey Shore,” Malis said. “Clearly they are worried … basically visitors who had previously vacationed at the shore are looking for alternatives and they are also putting off their looking and are waiting to see.”
Diane Wieland, director of the Cape May County Department of Tourism, was recently quoted as saying, “This is a very critical moment for us in the vacation rental market. If we lose the tourists now, they could be gone for good.”
Malis furthered New Jersey is not playing dead and is fighting back. Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno has said New Jersey is not going to give up and officials are trying to get an additional $20 million put towards marketing for this summer.
“More than any other year the strength, timing and geography of our marketing is critical and we should keep what’s happening up north in mind. This event has given an unprecedented opportunity to reach people who didn’t hear us before,” Malis said. “We have advertised heavily for five years now in Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey, and you can see by the number of cars on the road in the summer that we have reached those people, and they are becoming regular visitors but a big chunk of those people have never heard our advertising message. They have no interest whatsoever in changing their habit in where they would regularly go. This year they may hear us. They may not hear us again in a year, and so it is important that we are heard without taking advantage of using any particular marketing messages that would look like we are taking advantage of the situation … despite what people may think of my profession, we do have ethics and I would not advertise tobacco or furs, and I certainly would not want to take advantage by doing something particularly different but there is no reason not to continue what we have been doing and to make sure our message is heard.”
MGH suggested advertising earlier this year with heavier media buys in Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey and adding Pittsburgh.
In 2012, there were 12 weeks of Ocean City advertisements on air in Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey for 12 weeks, Baltimore, D.C. and HLLY (Harrisburg, Lancaster, Lebanon and York, Pa.) for 13 weeks and zero in Pittsburgh. This year MGH is recommending 16 weeks in Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey, 13 weeks in Baltimore, D.C. and HLLY and 12 weeks in Pittsburgh.
“Pittsburgh is a very efficient market, it is not very expensive, so we are able to do that,” Malis said.
MGH recommended having 22 weeks of online media from April 1 to Sept. 1 with search results, display banners, and mobile banners to drive Ocean City application downloads. Also, 19 weeks of billboards from April 22-Sept. 1 with 64 billboards in four markets of Baltimore, D.C., HLLY and New York/New Jersey, and along highways and expressways, such as I-95, I-83, I-76, 295, 395 and the New Jersey Turnpike. Additionally, two weeks of radio spots from July 29-Aug. 11 were pitched to support the second half of the summer season.
“My idea was to encourage people to go back to the Jersey beaches,” Councilman Brent Ashley said. “Do a campaign that we understand what it is like to have natural disasters, and we appreciate what the business people are going through and we want to encourage people to go back to the Jersey beaches if possible. I think that type of campaign would create so much good will it would be priceless.”
However, Ashley did agree with expanding media buys to Pittsburgh.
“There is a great market in the Pittsburgh area,” he said. “As you know, the weekly rentals have dropped off considerably in the last several years, and along with our Canadian visitors, the further they have to come the longer will stay.”
The Mayor and City Council voted unanimously to approve MGH recommendations in media buys, including the expansion to the Pittsburgh area.