There was no need for a massive shift in Ocean City’s special events planning this summer, but it’s clear the city’s elected officials wanted a bang for this season.
On one hand, the bold change in plans for the peak season in March is laudable. It signals Ocean City wants to demonstrate confidence and grandly provide visitors some new value-added events. Conversely, an argument could be made investing 70% (about $269,000) of the town’s $382,000 special events budget into 20 drone light shows is an unnecessary risk, one many visitors may not enjoy as much as fireworks.
We believe this summer is all about progress toward normalcy. This season will be complicated. The overall fate of the season relies on two factors – the weather (as it always does) and the labor market. If the latter is like it was last summer, many Ocean City businesses are going to be hamstrung again. No matter capacity concerns, many businesses in 2020 had to self-regulate themselves based on a shortage of employees. Operators had to make the difficult call of passing up revenue because there was not enough staff to serve customers. With foreign worker numbers expected to be down considerably and possibly minimal, staffing is going to be another struggle.
On the flip side, coming out of a pandemic with consumer confidence seemingly improving, Ocean City could be a huge benefactor of these indefinite times. The beach is an easy trip for millions of people and Ocean City by its nature offers numerous opportunities to enjoy the outdoors and open space. However, there remains a lot of uncertainty as spring begins, though much more hopeful than this time last year. We did not feel a massive investment of this sort on the drone shows was needed this season. We hoped the city would wait a year and let the natural progression of correction continue this summer.
Instead, the city decided to replace planned 20 fireworks displays with drone light shows. The city committed to one year with a second-year option depending on how they go this summer. “If it’s absolutely horrendous and nobody likes it, we have the option not to renew it for the second year,” said Ocean City Council President Matt James about the one-year commitment, confirming some apprehension on his part.
It’s our hope these shows are a major success story this summer. There certainly is potential, based on the numerous videos of shows across the country. These displays are exciting and impressive. For Ocean City, the positive side of these shows is they will bring a huge dose of free marketing to the resort. There is nothing like these drone light shows being held in this region. They will create a tremendous buzz for Ocean City. This is a great thing.
Measuring the return on investment on value-added events is impossible, but the fact there is something new and exciting in Ocean City should create an early-season buzz and give tourism folks something new to talk about during media tours. It’s a heavy price tag that comes with some risk. We think the timing was wrong for this bold play, but we admire the thought process behind it.