OCEAN CITY — Resort tourism officials this week discussed when to abandon the “stay away from Ocean City” marketing message and begin transitioning to a “welcome back” strategy.
Back in March as the COVID-19 pandemic began to accelerate and Mayor Rick Meehan issued emergency declarations closing the beaches and Boardwalk, resort officials shifted gears from the town’s typical pre-season marketing to a non-typical “we miss you but don’t come back any time soon” message. The so-called Happy Place campaign ran in various media platforms from mid-April to the first week of May.
“For so many of us, Ocean City Maryland is our happy place,” one of the advertisements said. “It’s where we go to relax and spend a few precious days with family and friends, but right now there’s only place you should be, with the people you love, taking care of each other. Your happy place will be here when it’s time to venture out again. The sun will be shining and the sand will be warm. Until then, stay healthy, and know that you have a place in our hearts.”
During Monday’s Tourism Commission meeting, Ocean City Communications Manager and Interim Tourism Director Jessica Waters said the Happy Place campaign achieved the desired results with 1.5 million digital views and another 1.3 million Youtube views. It is also credited with driving 60,000 unique visitors to the town’s website.
“It was very well-received,” she said. “We got an overwhelmingly positive response to the campaign. It was the right message. It really resonated with people and did exactly what it was supposed to do.”
With Meehan rescinding the beach and Boardwalk closure orders last week and the state preparing to enter stage one of the recovery plan at any time, Waters said the town is now working on a new marketing campaign to welcome back visitors with an emphasis on social distancing and other practices when it is safe to do so.
“Now we’re trying to come across with a really positive message,” she said. “We will be here and ready for you when the time is right.”
When Ocean City is ready to reopen and welcome guests, a new marketing campaign will be ready for launch.
“We’re waiting for when the time is right for the welcome back message,” she said. “Right now, the ads with the mayor are on hold because there is still a lot of uncertainty. When the governor lifts the stay-at-home order, our ads will be ready almost immediately.”
Meehan said it was important for the new campaign to portray portions of Ocean City that are ready to welcome back visitors. In other words, he suggested the footage show places that are open or will be open.
“When we do shoot the ads, we want to make sure some of the places featured in them are open,” he said. “That’s why we’re holding back a little bit.”
Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association Executive Director Susan Jones said her organization has prepared guidelines for resort businesses to safely accommodate guests.
“We’re trying to keep everybody informed and help them navigate through this,” she said. “We have to remember a lot of our visitors are not yet comfortable. We have to send a message that’s it’s safe to get out when the time is right.”
When asked how many hotels are open or planning to reopen, Jones said the number changes almost daily.
“I’m hearing from a lot of people they are getting anxious to get open,” she said. “A lot of the hotels are planning to reopen when the governor lifts the stay-at-home order. We have seven open now just for essential guests and there might be another dozen reopening this weekend. Most are targeting that May 22 date.”