(June 26, 2020) Appearing before the City Council on behalf of the local business community on Tuesday, Susan Jones, Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association executive director, updated the council on the business community’s perspective on covid-19, and expressed the tourism industry’s desire to work with local government to mend the resort’s tarnished image.
“You guys always hear from the residents, and I wanted to share with you a little bit of the perspective from the businesses in what’s going on with covid-19,” Jones said, during the council’ work session.
Jones said pent up demand for travel resulted in a strong flow of visitors to the resort, which has had some negative consequences.
“The pent-up demand, what it’s doing, is it is really causing a strain on relations,” Jones said. “A lot of the businesses are now seeing the public being totally over covid-19 and not wanting to follow any of the rules, so then we have business employees who are really starting to feel that their safety is at stake.”
She then discussed staffing, which has haunted business owners since the very beginning of the pandemic.
“We have members who are closing early because they don’t have enough staff, and that is largely because the J-1 program has just been killed last night with the president’s [Donald Trump] announcement — so we’re really having a huge crisis with staff,” Jones said.
Trump suspended international work visas Monday night, and the move is projected to bar more than 520,000 foreign workers from entering the country this summer.
Hoteliers are also struggling to keep up, as many are shutting down rooms for three days after guests leave so they can properly clean and sanitize them.
Additionally, while many hotels are seeing full bookings, many others are still at 60 percent capacity because of the staffing shortages.
“All in all, it’s been a really stressful time for, not only for city residents and government, but also a stressful time for businesses,” Jones said.
This was due in part to recent negative social media attention given to a string of violent and disorderly acts.
“[It] has really driven a lot of people away from liking Ocean City, and we are very fearful, as a community of business owners that rely on tourism for our very livelihoods, we are concerned that the July and August cancelations that we are seeing are really going to damage long-term visitation and future visitation into Ocean City,” Jones said.
The tourism association held a meeting with Mayor Rick Meehan last Friday to discuss these concerns, Jones said, and she emphasized that the business community sought to collaborate with the mayor and council in finding solutions — particularly in developing a crisis management plan for the resort’s social media platforms.
Before the meeting, she gave the council the name of a firm it could work with in developing a crisis management plan.
Councilman Mark Paddack asked whether the resort’s marketing firm, MGH, had a crisis management component, and City Manager Doug Miller said it did, but he would have to look at Jones’ proposal to see if it supplemented what the city already had.
“We’re here to work with you, we want to be partners with the government, we want to make sure that we do everything we can to protect Ocean City’s reputation, and if that means changes in the way we do business then we understand that,” Jones said.