Relaxing Pet Restrictions Could Have Tourism Impact

OCEAN CITY — Hoping to tap into a growing market, resort tourism officials this week discussed expanding when pets are allowed on the beach and Boardwalk.

Currently, pets are only allowed on the beach and Boardwalk between Oct. 1 and April 30. However, a popular growing trend is for vacationers to bring their favorite four-legged friends with them on vacation.

During a Tourism Commission meeting on Monday, Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association (OCHMRA) Executive Director Susan Jones pointed out more resort lodging establishments are becoming pet-friendly in response to the growing trend.

“Seeing how we have so many new hotel rooms, we need to explore how we’re going to fill them,” she said. “Pet travel is becoming increasingly popular. We used to have four members allowing pets and now we have 20. It’s definitely a growing market.”

Commission member Michael James agreed the idea had merit.

“Maybe we can allow people to take their pets on the beach or Boardwalk in May or even early June,” he said. “It could become a nice clientele.”

Jones said she did some cursory research on the policies of neighboring beach resorts and found they were somewhat more relaxed than Ocean City. She also related a story of a pet owner who paid $300 to board a pet for four days to illustrate the added cost of visiting a less pet-friendly destination.

“I think we could follow the before 10 a.m. and after 5 p.m. rule,” she said. “We’d have to create real enforceable laws for people picking up pet waste. The hotels that do allow pets give out doggie bags for that purpose.”

While supportive of exploring the idea further, commission member and business owner Stephanie Meehan cautioned against allowing pets on the beach in the morning during the season.

“I think after 5 p.m. is better than the morning because the beach will be cleaned,” she said. “They’re still cleaning the beach at night. I would hate to see families go out to the beach in the morning and find pet waste.”

James recommended shortening the time period of the restrictions.

“At the least, I think we could add May and September,” he said. “Maybe pets could be allowed on the beach and Boardwalk from the actual Labor Day Monday until the Thursday before Memorial Day.”

The commission agreed to renew the discussion at a later date and come up with a recommendation for the Mayor and Council.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.