for City Council responded to about a dozen questions this week, including those specifically related to tourism.
On Tuesday evening the Ocean City AARP Chapter 1917 hosted an Ocean City Candidates Forum. Council candidates Nancy Bolt, Tony DeLuca, Wayne Hartman, Matthew James, Christopher Rudolf and former Councilman Joe Hall were present to participate. Candidate Joe Cryer was not present and incumbent Council President Lloyd Martin was absent due to illness.
A couple of questions posed by moderator Bryan Russo of WAMU 88.5 probed the candidates on their positions regarding tourism. In the first of a three-part series leading up to the Nov. 4 election, the following questions were asked followed by candidates’ responses.
Q: Tourism is the driving force of Ocean City’s economy. What is your position on maintaining funding for destination marketing in light of other budgetary priorities? What other ideas can be brought to the table to support and promote tourism?
Bolt: As far as maintaining our funding for tourism, we have an outside group that comes in and handles advertising for the town. In my opinion, the TV campaign was brilliant. Everybody knows Rodney [the lifeguard], and he is recognized by everybody. I think the marketing itself needs to be a little bit redirected to a broader group of folks. Otherwise, I think it’s great. As far as maintaining the budget for it, we do a lot of it out of the house, and maybe we need to bring it back in to save some money. We have a tourism department and we may be able to cut some costs by using the people we have more.
DeLuca: Tourism in this city is probably the strongest thing that we have going. There is a reason why families come here. I believe that moving tourism forward is a priority that is very serious. I have always supported tourism, and it is probably my number one priority as I thought about it. The tourism department has done an exceptional job in terms of what they have done in marketing this city, so moving forward with that is probably the number one priority.
Hartman: We need advertising to bring people here but once they get here their experience has to be the right experience as well. I know when everybody leaves they go back to where they are from … if there was a problem they normally talk about that when they go home. So for the tourists that are here the same weekend that we have, for example the event College Takeover, that message that goes home is wrong and that could offset their time spent here and the spending we do, but I thought the police officers in June wearing armed vests was the best advertising we could have at that time of year.
If you look at the advertising dollars spent over the last five years, the advertising budget has doubled, so we have an adequate budget as far as advertising, and I really think we need to maintain the image that people are used to for Ocean City, starting with keeping the Boardwalk clean and resolving noise issues.
James: I think it is very important to maintain marketing for tourism to draw tourists to Ocean City. It is not only to get people here, but it is important to get tourists to come to Ocean City, make it an experience while they are here, so that they come back again and again.
Rudolf: We need to maintain our advertising campaign, specifically in states like New York and New Jersey. Working at the Kite Loft, I talk to a lot of people that come from those states and they often say, ‘Wow, this is a really cool place, and I am going to bring my family back next year to visit.’ I want to push that mentality on folks who come to visit Ocean City because events promote tourism, whether it is a kite festival, Springfest, or Winefest, any kind of special event that has a low impact on town resources. That is good for everybody, and it increases the amount of people that return the next year.
Hall: Of course, tourism is important to the Town of Ocean City. We are a beach resort but I think our advertising efforts have been an epic fail. Since I first sat on the council, we had a million dollar budget [for tourism advertising], and we increased it to over $5 million, and we have had a decrease in visitors. We are continually striving to find new revenues to throw at something when the municipal government should be an enabler for the private sector and support the businesses themselves. Is revenue important? We have the power to tax, so the town has invested interest in being involved but the avenues and interests that have been taken have not produced a result. Look at the month of June itself, there is the Dew Tour, Air Show, this show, that show, increased spending and decreased visitation. The results of municipal government are poor at best.
Q: A percentage of businesses say the summer season is getting shorter, and they are struggling making it from one summer season to the next. What larger role do you think the Mayor and Council could play in helping grow market areas of tourism and in growing the shoulder seasons?
Bolt: Bringing more events to the town and utilizing the convention center more for groups, shows and concerts will help bring more people throughout the year. Whatever we can do, we have the facilities to handle that. I see the season actually growing. I have a small business here and we are still pretty busy.
DeLuca: I do not see the summer season shrinking. It is getting larger. It is getting busier early and later. What the Mayor and City Council are doing is right on target. They are bringing events here in the Fall and Spring that really drives that, so I don’t see the summer shrinking at all.
Hartman: I don’t see the summer shrinking. When you look at the month of October and some of the special events that we have here, I think that speaks for itself. Also, a lot of organizations, such as the Downtown Association are doing a great job … there are a lot of different things that go into extending the summer season, and bringing the residents and visitors together.
James: I don’t think that the summer season is getting shorter. I believe the town promoting special events in the shorter months has made the summer longer. There is more than just “100 days of summer.” If special events are maintained and increased, Ocean City will continue to grow.
Rudolf: The summer season is not shrinking. If anything, it is getting bigger because of the various special events that we have and the recent change in policy of having schools start after Labor Day. That has been very beneficial and when you get right down to it a lot of businesses along the Boardwalk are busy up to Halloween and even into November. Every year I have noticed the season gets progressively longer and longer, and it benefits all of us. We are heading in the right direction.
Hall: That is all pie in the sky. The reality is the “100-day season” is dead. It is now maybe 70 days. What the business community is telling you is from Memorial Day to Labor Day there used to be lines out the doors. What happened? People’s habits changed. The mini week’s came out … and instead of spending a full week here … it has been reduced. Yes, the weekends are busy in the shoulder seasons because you spread the business out … so the net profit for business has been reduced in this town.