OCEAN CITY — Although the impact is uncertain with the calendar about to flip over to September, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut this week removed Maryland and Delaware from their mandated quarantine lists for travelers.
In late June, with COVID-19 numbers still climbing throughout the country, the tri-state area placed 31 states — designated as viral hotspots — on a mandated quarantine list. Residents in those states who traveled to those so-called hotspots were required to self-quarantine for 14 days upon return.
Maryland was added to the quarantine in late June. For many vacationers from those states, the specter of returning home to quarantine for two weeks was enough to curtail travel plans.
Of course, Ocean City is a drive-to destination for most travelers from New York and New Jersey, and it’s uncertain just how many visitors from those states followed the quarantine mandates or if the states even knew their residents had traveled to hotspots. In other words, it was likely an honor system for those who traveled to the designated hotspots.
Anecdotally, there has been no shortage of license plates from New York and New Jersey all summer, so the impact of the mandated quarantine in those states is hard to quantify. However, when the quarantine mandates were implemented in June, the resort’s hospitality industry clearly took a hit from a lack of travelers for a couple of Ocean City’s major markets, according to Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association Executive Director Susan Jones.
“We are extremely pleased to see that New York and New Jersey removed Maryland from the quarantine list,” she said. “When we were first placed on it, there were a lot of cancellations as that market represents a healthy percentage of travelers. In years past, there has been a heavy influx from those areas during the end of August as their schools went back later than others.”
Ocean City Acting Tourism Director and Communications Manager Jessica Waters agreed.
“Now that the travel restrictions have been lifted, we are thrilled to welcome back our visitors from New York and New Jersey,” she said.
However, the lifting of the quarantine mandate this week in a couple of Ocean City’s major markets in the waning days of August does not mean there will be a major shift in the town’s fall marketing and advertising strategy. Many of the major fall special events have been canceled or modified significantly and the uncertainties surrounding COVID-19 still remain.
Earlier this month, stopping short of throwing in the towel, resort officials decided not to go after a fall marketing campaign, opting instead to regroup and utilize the advertising budget for an aggressive campaign next year, hopefully when COVID is in the rear-view mirror. That decision was based on a variety of factors, not the least of which was Maryland’s rather dubious listing on the tri-state area’s mandated quarantine list.
Throughout COVID-19, Ocean City’s marketing and advertising strategy shifted almost as often as the state and federal directives changed. The strategy went from “Stay at Home” and “We’ll Be Here When the Time is Right” in the early days last spring to “Welcome Back” as the state went through the various stages of its recovery plan.
The plan through most of the summer was for a fall marketing campaign focused on “Let’s Keep Summer Going.” Earlier this month, the Tourism Commission and later the Mayor and Council were faced with three alternatives for the fall marketing strategy. One option was to simply do nothing and let dysfunctional 2020 simply run its course. A second option was to develop a full-press fall marketing campaign akin to the “Keep Summer Going” concept with a complete television, radio and digital package, but that would have come with a $480,000 price tag.
The third option would be to scale back the all marketing campaign to just the town’s digital mediums and social networking, but that would still come at a cost of around $280,000. The town’s final decision was to simply lick its wounds for 2020 and bank the marketing budget for an aggressive campaign next year, although there is a modest, low-cost campaign in the works hoping to take advantage of the online distance-learning and online working trends still prevalent.
Waters said this week the fall marketing strategy had not changed with New York and New Jersey removing Maryland from its mandated quarantine list this week.
“I don’t believe we will do a fall campaign this year for many reasons including the budget, COVID restrictions and business staffing concerns,” she said. “Although New York and New Jersey travel restrictions impacted our summer media campaign some, it was just a small factor in determining whether the town moved forward with a fall media campaign, which would have been the first in many years.”