Ocean City Planning Strategic Tourism Study

OCEAN CITY – The Town of Ocean City is looking to hire a strategic planning facilitator that will study the resort’s tourism in a general sense, such as where diversity comes into play and to explore what other opportunities will attract visitors to Ocean City.
City Manager David Recor initiated a strategic planning process for Ocean City over a year ago and the completed document was released a few weeks ago. The strategic plan includes a vision that describes the value-based principles for the future of Ocean City into the next 15 years and a mission statement defined by principles. The plan also outlines goals that focus on outcome-based objectives and potential actions for Ocean City into the next five years.
Under Ocean City’s strategic plan, the second goal is to be a first class resort and tourist destination, and one of the action items under that goal to be conducted in 2013 is a tourism evaluation and a market analysis.
In August, Director of Tourism and Marketing Donna Abbott explained to the Tourism Commission for the past three years $40,000 has been budgeted as a line item in the tourism budget to work with Equation Research, which is a full-service strategic research agency.
Three years ago, an Equation Research study was conducted regarding Ocean City’s Rodney the Lifeguard marketing campaign. Last year upon the Town’s advertising firms, MGH, suggestion the town decided to use the budget allocation towards purchasing additional media buys over conducting a study two years in a row. This year Abbott kept the line item in the budget thinking a study would be conducted every other year.
The discussion continued during Friday’s Tourism Commission meeting when Chair and Councilwoman Mary Knight pointed out the Maryland Office of Tourism Development (OTD) had recently revised its strategic plan and Ocean City should look to the working document as a guide.
The OTD’s vision statement for 2015 is “Maryland’s tourism industry, and the efforts of the Office of Tourism Development,  shall be recognized as a vital economic engine for the State of Maryland, generating revenues, sustaining jobs, improving the State’s image and leveraging investments in Maryland’s tourism assets. The Office of Tourism Development will pursue its mission – increasing tourism expenditures – with a focus on accountability and results. The plan lists and outlines three goals of funding and finance, destination marketing, and product development and infrastructure.”
“Personally, I have been railing this for years. We are basically crisis managing every year without our own map to go forward, and putting it off another year puts us into another year of crisis management, so I believe time is of the essence,” Greg Shockley, owner of Shenanigans Irish Pub and member of the Maryland Tourism Development Board, said of having Ocean City place a Request For Proposal (RFP) to have Ocean City’s tourism strategic planning process get under way.
In speaking with the state, Abbott gathered Ocean City’s own tourism strategic study can be narrowed down compared to the state’s document, which would ultimately lower the cost, as she initiated conversation among commission members in what the city’s focus should be in crafting a RFP.
Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association (OCHMRA) Executive Director Susan Jones suggested investigating Ocean City’s target markets, the best way to reach those markets and what would be the message to send out to those markets.
MGH Advertising President Andy Malis added the study should explore other opportunities that would draw people to Ocean City, for example eco-tourism or sand sculpture conventions.
Shockley pointed out the many diversities surfacing among local businesses, such as certain events benefit some and not others, or why June is a busy month for some and not others, or some believe Ocean City’s tourism is based on special events and others think it is based on a family friendly message.
“Those are the type of questions the strategic planner will ask the group and the group will have to come up with a consensus,” he said.
Recor agreed time is of the essence and the first step would be to prepare and go out for RFP to choose a strategic plan facilitator. In the meantime, stakeholders to be involved in the process need to be identified.
The Tourism Commission was in consensus to send a favorable recommendation to the full Mayor and Council to send out a RFP for a tourism strategic plan facilitator.