Matt James

Members based decision on low market demand for travel, save funds for spring

(Aug. 7, 2020) The Ocean City Tourism Commission on Monday chose to not pursue a fall marketing campaign based on diminishing market demand for travel.  

Interim Tourism Director Jessica Waters said the commission had discussed whether to launch a fall marketing campaign at its last meeting.

The potential fall marketing strategy was called the “Keep Summer Going” campaign. 

The group had three options for the fall — option 1, do nothing and save money for spring; option two, advertise on all mediums, which would cost about $480,000; or option three, advertise on digital only, which would cost roughly $280,000, Waters said. 

“We have to make a decision by Aug. 10, so I wanted to bring that back up and see where we stood,” Waters said. 

A fall campaign could prove beneficial as the resort’s 2020 spring season had been trampled on by the covid-19 pandemic. 

However, Michael James of the Carrousel Group had previously said that no one would know what the city’s advertising budget would be come next spring, as the city’s room tax revenue had been driven down by the pandemic. 

 “With Bike Fest canceling and schools not going back, the message is certainly fitting,” Waters said. “But the … unknown for spring is certainly a major concern and do we want to save [the money] … for the spring of 2021?”

Additionally, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have put Maryland on their quarantine list, which has caused mass hotel cancelations. 

“The $480,000 certainly worries me a bit,” Waters said, although she wanted guidance from the commission. 

Michael James and his son, Councilman Matt James, agreed. 

“My standard line is survive this summer, lick our wounds and look forward to 2021,” the elder James said. 

Waters said her conversations with others in the business community indicated that July had been strong, but August would be seeing diminishing profits. 

However, “We currently have $3.26 million budgeted for spring, so the fall campaign would come out of that $3 million,” Waters said. “As opposed to last year, we had about $2.5 million, so right now we’re looking really healthy for the spring, but that’s with the expectation that we could lose that money.” 

The city had also saved about $280,000 by stopping advertisements in New York and New Jersey and reallocating funds, Waters said. 

Nonetheless, one of the questions that had been discussed in the last meeting was whether the business community could handle an extended season, because of continuing staffing issues and diminished revenues this summer. 

“Do we want the fall?” Matt James asked. 

Michael James added that demand has been weak. 

“This is the worst week of the summer right now — this is typically the best [week],” Michael James said. 

Furthermore, the governor could shut down business in the fall, and Mayor Rick Meehan agreed saying there were simply too many unknowns. 

Susan Jones, Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association executive director, had reservations about doing nothing for the fall. 

“So we don’t think we should do something in September? At all?” Jones asked.

She said with the nosedive in hotel occupancy, the resort should push for more guests while room rates remained higher. 

Waters said, however, advertising aside, the most important factor this year was comfort level — are people comfortable traveling to Ocean City? 

“We can put a ton of money into September … but I just don’t know if that would change [anything],” Waters said. “Like what Michael and the mayor just said, we don’t know where we’re going to be, we don’t know what the governor is going to do and we certainly don’t know what people’s fear level is going to be.” 

Michael reiterated the ebbing market demand. 

“[We’ve been] spending the most money … [over] the last two weeks and this is the worst week,” Michael said. “You can just see it’s just not working.”

The commission chose to save the money until the spring, unless a major change takes place within the next few weeks. 

Josh covers everything Ocean City government and crime. He graduated from the University of Richmond in 2019 with a B.A. in French and Journalism.

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