Ocean City is right to seek more than a one-day event commitment from the Spartan race because the 2019 version was largely a daytripper event. Tourism dollars should not be spent on daytripper events that do not result in attendees spending money in the local economy, whether it be in restaurants and bars, retail stores, amusements or hotels.
The economic impact of the 2019 event – the first time Spartan was in Ocean City – was insignificant. It was an excellent event featuring outdoor fitness and about 3,000 superior athletes tackling the different challenges in the downtown area. Though some may maintain its impact was beyond marginal, there is no disputing a cross section of Ocean City businesses should see positive gains in sales when the town’s government is financially contributing to a special event.
This year Ocean City will allocate about $60,000 for the event. This is a significant expense and the best way to ensure there is a return on investment is to add elements to the event to make it a weekend draw. Whether it’s adding a children’s course, a senior option or even live music, the event should put more heads in beds than it did two years ago to continue receiving tourism reinvestment dollars. Otherwise, it’s a debatable expense.
Sports tourism is a real economic driver and this event has the potential to be a perfect example of it. It’s exactly the type of event Ocean City should host, but room nights in October are meaningful as are restaurant reservations. This event has the potential to continue to grow, as officials expect participation to double this year. I agree with what Mayor Rick Meehan said when he maintained it was a “great event” two years ago, but expressed there must be some more activities to it. He said, “I have some concerns about it being just a one-day event, because we invest tourism dollars in this. If you looked at the park-and-ride last time, you could see many of the participants came over for the event and left the same day. We’re trying to create room nights out of this.”
After the CDC issued new guidance last week advising masks continue to be worn by non-vaccinated individuals when schools reopen, concern has been rampant among some local schools will revert to requiring them in the fall. In Worcester County, there does not appear to be any legitimacy to those fears. All indications are Worcester County Public Schools will continue with its current summer school policy of not requiring masks when the bells starting ringing in September. In a communication on June 23, the county school system communicated to families, “Beginning on July 1, face coverings will no longer be required to be worn in WCPS facilities. However, WCPS, in conjunction with the Maryland Department of Health, strongly encourages the wearing of face coverings for elementary school-aged children and unvaccinated individuals.” The key element here is the CDC says in its guidance local transmission rates and positivity numbers should dictate how jurisdictions react. As of Wednesday, the daily positivity percentage for Worcester was 1.81%, up from .4% on July 1, but still far below any level of concern. There is no reason for any changes.
Over the last 18 months, I have learned a lot professionally because of the pandemic. I approach all aspects of operating a business differently today as a result of the challenges presented last March and the months following. I think the same can be said for restaurateurs, who are pivoting on a daily basis and dealing with food supply chain issues as well as constant labor headaches.
A casual conversation about perspective and reality with a restaurant operator recently hammered home what’s happening around the marketplace. Having been in the business for more than 30 years, he said he approaches each day as it comes. He no longer worries about what’s ahead and doesn’t even run budget forecasts anymore. As was his nightly routine, he no longer stays up late examining sales data compared to years past. He said the pandemic taught him a lot about keeping his eye on the ball every day and not thinking big picture. He was right when he said nothing is a given anymore. He said the pandemic has taught him to focus on the daily grind as he pulls shifts on the kitchen line, busing tables and even serving himself when an employee calls out sick or is burnt out.
Surely if you have eaten out lately, you can see the stress on restaurant employees, managers and owners. An excerpt from an interview with the late Anthony Bourdain has been making its rounds online recently. Though it’s not current and not a reaction to issue facing the industry like the cost of vegetables and meats and the labor shortage, his words ring true.
Bourdain said, “You can always tell when a person has worked in a restaurant. There’s an empathy that can only be cultivated by those who’ve stood between a hungry mouth and a $28 pork chop, a special understanding of the way a bunch of motley misfits can be a family. Service industry work develops the “soft skills” recruiters talk about on LinkedIn — discipline, promptness, the ability to absorb criticism, and most important, how to read people like a book. The work is thankless and fun and messy, and the world would be a kinder place if more people tried it. With all due respect to my former professors, I’ve long believed I gained more knowledge in kitchens, bars, and dining rooms than any college could even hold.”