Ocean City Council Approves Updated Strategic Plan

OCEAN CITY — Resort officials have approved a final version of the three-year strategic plan that was mapped out during work sessions last spring.

Every three years, the Mayor and Council and key staff gather to update the town’s strategic plan, a road map of sorts charting the town’s desired direction in the near future. The last update was completed in 2019 and many of the goals and objectives on that version have been or will be accomplished. The intent of the strategic plan, in simplest terms, is to update the road map and identify what is working and should be continued, what can be approved upon and what that long-range goal is for the future.

City Manager Terry McGean on Sept. 19 presented the updated strategic plan to the Mayor and Council for approval. He explained the process, which included the marathon work sessions, a report from the consultant and a review of the plan with councilmembers, the mayor and department heads in order to reach the final version, which the council unanimously approved. Councilman John Gehrig said the process was challenging, but the final product was worth it.

“It wasn’t fun going through the process, but it was a good process,” he said. “I think it’s a great plan.”

The 2022 strategic plan is a voluminous document to detail, but it provides an outline for the town’s vision, its goals and objectives and pending action items, all of which are prioritized. In short, the stated goals in the document are maintaining a first-class resort and tourist destination, maintaining a financially sound town government, providing excellent service through a high-performing town organization, making a more livable community for residents and revitalizing Ocean City through development and redevelopment.

While the Mayor and Council were pleased with the outcome and ultimately approved the updated strategic plan with little discussion, Gehrig questioned a line in one section that he perceived as slighting the town’s marketing and advertising effort.

One line in the lengthy tome under the “short-term challenges and opportunities” category reads, “Understanding that increased tourism drives a need for additional town services and establishing sources of revenue to provide those services.”

Naturally, with increased tourism, including a growing list of major offseason special events, the need for town services increases in terms of public safety, public works and just about every other department and there is a cost involved in providing those services.

While he was pleased with overall strategic plan, Gehrig said the tenor of that section suggested increased tourism was viewed as a negative in terms of the relationship between the revenue it creates and associated demand on services. It’s largely semantics, but he suggested amending that line to cast a better light on the impact of tourism in the resort town.

“It kind of takes a negative look on tourism,” he said. “We need a more positive outlook on tourism. Inflation is going up and our property taxes are going down. That’s because we pay our bills, and that’s because of tourism. We need to change our attitude towards tourism, and good tourism is even better.”

Gehrig’s comments during the strategic plan presentation mirrored some of his comments made earlier in the meeting during a review of the minutes from the recent Tourism Commission meeting.

“I want to mention a new tool that will be able to monitor the revenue generated by our advertising efforts,” he said. “We have an election coming up and folks need to know this advertising question is on the ballot. There is fear being propagated in the community that advertising is a sin. We need to let our residents know the revenue generated by advertising has lowered our taxes.”

Gehrig has been a fierce advocate for increased advertising and marketing efforts and a rebranding of the town’s image, including going after the youth sports market. He said investing in destination marketing and advertising can offset the costs of providing services and infrastructure to the growing number of visitors tourism brings to the town.

“We invest money to make money,” he said. “We know that 60% of that is generated goes to the general fund. It’s a revenue source and that’s how we pay our bills. That’s why we have the tremendous infrastructure we have in our community.”

Gehrig said the state has awarded the town of Ocean City a $1.6 million grant to continue to invest in marketing and tourism.

“All of this marketing that we’re doing is targeting the type of people we want,” he said. “Every business does this. Every business wants a customer that is high value and loyal. The state is rewarding us for investing in advertising.”

While most agree with Gehrig in principle, he suggested the town’s marketing and advertising strategy could be enhanced. That’s happening already to some degree with the reconfiguration of the town’s tourism and business development department and bringing on a new advertising agency with a fresh look at marketing the resort.

“We want the people who love us,” he said. “We don’t want to just sit back and cross our fingers and get what we get. That’s a losing strategy. The state is giving us $1.6 million because we’ve done a good job.”

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.