BERLIN — After finishing third in preliminary voting earlier this winter, Berlin has now entered the final round for Budget Travel’s “America’s Smallest Cool Town” contest and is currently in first place.
With final round voting re-opening late last week, Berlin rode the momentum generated in the preliminary and jumped to the front of the pack. As of Wednesday, the town is in the lead with 23 percent of the total vote. Its closest competitors are Buckhannon, W.Va. at 19 percent; Mathews, Va. at 15 percent; and Travelers Rest, S.C. at 10 percent. The remainder of the top 15 falls sharply after Travelers Rest with the next closest near 6 percent all the way down to last place at 0.1 percent.
Voting for America’s Coolest Small Town will continue until Tuesday, Feb. 25. Visitors to Budget Travel’s website can vote once per day for their favorite town.
When the voting for the 2014 Smallest Cool Town began late in 2013, it didn’t generate much of a stir in Berlin. But word of mouth and a concentrated effort from a small number of residents helped the town leapfrog up the list. At that point, it began to get attention.
“A lot of people picked up on it as it ended,” said Michael Day, director of Economic and Community Development. “The word just got out at the very end.”
Within a few short weeks, Berlin had climbed into the top 15 and then the top 10. When first-round voting closed, it sat at number three in the country and the only town from Maryland near the top.
Now that voting has re-opened with Berlin in front, Lisa Challenger, director of Tourism for Worcester, hopes to get the entire state behind Berlin.
“I think because there are no other towns in Maryland that we’re competing with or even nearby … we are going to reach out to the Maryland State Tourism office to try to make this a Maryland thing and get them using all of their social channels to help with the voting,” she said. “I’m going to reach out to all of my other tourism counterparts across the state.”
Challenger is optimistic about wrangling support, especially locally, with the surrounding counties and other municipalities in Worcester. Ocean City has used its social media to spread the word, for instance.
“This is something that is America’s top 10, not just Maryland’s. It’s going to be a really huge marketing tool for us, and if people want to come and explore these small towns I think it’s important to know that Berlin only has very limited lodging places. And so the most logical place people would stay is Ocean City, so I think it can help everybody, not just Berlin,” she said.
Day agreed that Ocean City especially should be in Berlin’s corner as Berlin being voted the country’s coolest small town would help the entire area “publicity-wise.”
Though there’s still more than a month of voting left, Day is confident that Berlin has a shot at keeping its lead and taking first place.
“I’m hoping that with a push, and if we can get the state tourism board onboard, hopefully we can win it,” he said.
The county plans to follow the Budget Travel contest closely as this is by far the best showing a Worcester town has had yet. The fight will go to the social media battleground, with Challenger confirming that Mark Huey, the county’s Social Media Coordinator, will be dedicating a lot of effort to promoting through a number of different mediums.
“We do want to reach out and get others helping us because we understand that we’re a small population and we can’t do it all by ourselves,” Challenger said.
To vote, head over to www.budgettravel.com.