With many new hotels, marketers have more work to do to fill them

(April 12, 2019) The build-it-and-they-will-come approach to hotel development in Ocean City has added more than 1,000 rooms to the lodging inventory in the last several years, compelling the industry to seek ways to fill them and draw more tourists to ensure business throughout the accommodations market.

When the Economic Development Committee had its season kick-off breakfast last Wednesday, Andy Malis, who heads Ocean City’s Baltimore advertising agency MGH, acknowledged the work ahead.

In addition to the steady increase in hotel room rates, Malis reported that almost 550 hotel rooms were added in the past year, with 384 more expected to open in 2019.

Andy Malis

Andy Malis

“Every time I come to town … I’m just shocked at all the construction,” Malis said. “Close to 1,000 more rooms online. That’s significantly good that people believe in Ocean City and they’re investing in it and they’re opening up new hotels and restaurants and other kinds of businesses. But it obviously puts a lot of pressure on filling all those rooms.”

Susan Jones, executive director of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, has several ideas on how to do that.

“From 2017-2020, there’s been 1,026 new rooms coming into the market,” Jones said. “For the last six months, we have been really trying to get the city to recognize that fact, because they control the marketing dollars.”

Retail lodging establishments — roughly 10,500 in Ocean City and West Ocean City — are just one part of the equation.

“That’s not taking into account all the condos, so the number of condominium units for rental is in the neighborhood of 20,000 condo units,” Jones said. “Together there’s probably close to 30,000 [rooms].”

One of the ways Jones (and others, such as Tourism Director Donna Abbott) believes the need for more business might be addressed is by capitalizing on the rising popularity of sports tourism.

“Given our location and our proximity to so many metropolitan areas and the fact that we have a three-mile Boardwalk and 10-mile beach that’s free, we have a lot that we could offer to sporting groups in terms of fun things to do in addition to just being a sports destination,” Jones said.

“Most of the people who go to sporting tournaments are families, so the clientele is exactly who we are looking for,” she continued. “We need to put a lot of our energy into figuring how to best [capture] the interest of this market.”

The City Council would seem to agree, having voted a few weeks ago to approve a sports tourism indoor complex study. In addition, new tournaments and sporting events have been including to the resort’s agenda, including the upcoming Jellyfish festival, which will merge music and sports.

Another approach that could bring in more tourists would be to promote midweek deals, Jones said.

“Sunday-Thursday are the times rates are a lot lower than on the weekends, so we really need the city’s help in pushing those midweek deals,” Jones said. “As an association and hotel community, we don’t have the marketing dollars, whereas the town has the room tax, which is the advertising money, so we need help pushing those midweek deals.”

One last possibility might be beneficial to pet owners — having the resort become more pet friendly.

“So many people travel with their pets now and we’re not a pet friendly state,” Jones said. “We want to know how we can tap into that market as well, because it is definitely a market that has grown over the years. There are more and more destinations people are taking pets.”

None of these approaches, if instituted, will have an immediate impact, but not doing anything and letting the market sort itself out is not an option that anyone wants to entertain.

“We’ve got to do something to increase demand,” Jones said.

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