Tourism Plan RFP Approved; 5-Year Marketing Blueprint Sought

OCEAN CITY – The town is officially calling for bids to bring in a strategic plan facilitator to help city officials and stakeholders lay out a five-year plan for Ocean City’s tourism.
Tourism and Marketing Director Donna Abbott presented a draft Request for Proposal (RFP) this week to the Mayor and Council to solicit bids for a Tourism Strategic Plan for the Town of Ocean City.
Abbott submitted at the Oct. 21 regular session the Mayor and Council voted to accept the Tourism Commission’s recommendation to proceed with composing an RFP for the establishment of a strategic plan for tourism.
A draft RFP has been prepared to solicit proposals for a five-year strategic plan, evaluating the town’s tourism assets and conducting a market analysis to incorporate into a plan that will serve as the blueprint for Ocean City’s tourism marketing for fiscal year 2015-2020.
“I received some input from the state’s tourism director as well,” Abbott said. “They went through a similar process a few years ago and found it very helpful.”
The desired outcomes of the strategic plan are listed as identify key geographic and demographic targets with the highest Return on Investment (ROI) potential, identify niche market targets with the highest ROI potential, vision, goals and objectives for the Ocean City Department of Tourism for FY 2015-2020 and a strategic planning document that contains all of the above.
“To me this is way over due and much needed. I see the figures sometimes that we are up in room tax and food tax … I have doubts in how that is coming about,” Councilman Brent Ashley said. “The last couple years we have been in a holding pattern just trying to keep even … the new up is now even. This is the way we have to go to move forward and increase our tourism.”
Tourism Commission Chair Councilwoman Mary Knight added the strategic plan for tourism has received the support of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association’s Board of Directors.
The Mayor and City Council voted unanimously to approve the Tourism Strategic Plan RFP. The timeframe allows for the award of the RFP by the end of February, hold sessions with stake holders February through March and have the strategic plan presented for review and approval by the end of April.
In August, 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 toward 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 a subsequent Tourism Commission meeting when Knight pointed out the Maryland Office of Tourism Development (MOTD) had recently revised its strategic plan and Ocean City should look to the working document as a guide.
The MOTD’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.”
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.
“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,” said Greg Shockley, owner of Shenanigans Irish Pub and member of the Maryland Tourism Development Board, at that time.
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. The council this week moved that process forward.