Tourism toolkit plan aims to advise public clearly when trouble arises

(Feb. 12, 2021) Confusion ran amok as the covid outbreak started to make its way through Ocean City in 2020. By time June arrived, things got worse: the overtaking of streets by unruly crowds and a pop-up car rally to help create a communication nightmare between resort officials, businesses, and residents, with mixed and outdated messages being passed around as the official word.

Now, a tourism toolkit is being developed by members of the Ocean City tourism community to communicate a unified message with businesses and residents to reduce confusion when things get a little hectic in the summer.

JW

Jessica Waters

Jessica Waters, the acting tourism director and communications manager for the city, said on Wednesday that there needs to be a way to communicate with the community, so all information is up to date, and everyone is on the same page.

Ocean City typically sees an increase in crime beginning in June, when the area begins to receive a younger, more exuberant crowd that also seems to attract a more criminally inclined element.

“Last year was a bit of an anomaly,” Waters said, suggesting that several bars and restaurants were not fully open when the rush came. “Some of the things we saw were a bit out of character for Ocean City.”

For example, on June 7, 2020, multiple people were involved in an altercation that resulted in a stabbing between Sixth and Seventh streets on the Boardwalk. The following day, teenagers were seen taking over the road at 11th Street and clambering over a vehicle. The raucous behavior continued through the week, causing several mixed messages to go out and creating confusion in the community.

This year, she said, the plan is to be prepared just in case it happens again.

Enter the Ocean City Strong and Ocean City United group, which is made up of members of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, Ocean City Development Corporation, Hotel Motel and Restaurant Association, Town of Ocean City, Worcester County Health Department, and Worcester County Tourism and is creating a communication plan, or tourism toolkit.

Shortly after its creation, the group came up with a list of frequently asked questions and the best way to respond to visitors on social media.

The key was to be timely and accurate when delivering tips that the community may find beneficial when situations unfold downtown, on the Boardwalk, or during events.

“Everyone knows how to answer questions from visitors and residents, but this gave us a way for us to all work together,” Waters said. 

The “toolkit” will be broken into three different phases, she said, and really it is a way to set expectations, create a uniform list of best practices when using social media to answer questions about crime, and setting best practices in business pertaining to having well-lit areas, working cameras, and working with the police department.

The first phase, which is expected to get underway this month, will open up the discussion and let people know the tourism department is working on a toolkit for June. This is also an opportunity to let businesses and residents know they can be a part of the planning process.

The second phase is to set up learning seminars with the community and attend neighborhood watches, chamber of commerce meetings, and talking about what occurred in 2020 and how to improve it in 2021.

The third and final phase will go live in June and is more or less a checkup to make sure everyone is on the same page, especially when the resort may face more challenging times, Waters said.

“It’s important for us to work together as a community,” she said. “2020 was a challenge. The more we worked together as a community, the stronger we became. That’s what we hope to get out of this toolkit.”

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