BERLIN – Tourism in Worcester County is doing well this season, business owners say, despite the less sunny picture painted by tourism officials, who see a trend of level or decreasing numbers of visitors to sites outside the resort.
“It’s fairly flat or a little on the decline,” said Worcester County Tourism Director Lisa Challenger.
Tourist numbers in Worcester County, exclusive of Ocean City, can be difficult to determine, she acknowledged.
“It’s harder to gauge because we don’t have the demoflush figures and occupancy rates Ocean City has,” Challenger said.
Various businesses and attractions reached this week around the county are reporting a good season, however.
“We’re up this year. We have over 100 more [visitors] than last year for the month of June, and July is up, too,” said Susan Taylor of the Calvin B. Taylor House Museum in Berlin.
Toward the southern end of the county, Furnace Town Director Kathy Fisher has been pleased with what she has seen this summer.
“Furnace Town is doing well. We are busy. Our daily business has increased over last year and we are seeing a number of people coming out of Ocean City and Chincoteague,” said Fisher.
Along the same lines, Keith Donoway, assistant manager of the Pocomoke River Canoe Company in Snow Hill, reported, “This summer we’re doing pretty well so far. It’s been a pretty temperate summer.” He added, “It’s definitely the same if not better [than last summer]. I would definitely say a little bit better.”
The Holland House Bed and Breakfast in Berlin is reporting a better summer than last as well.
“It’s been an improvement over last season. It’s busy,” said Jan Quick. “It is busier than last year.”
In Whaleyville on Route 50, Fort Whaley Campground Assistant Office Manager Amy Robertson said this summer has been markedly different than past years.
“We’ve been busier than we’ve been in the past,” said Robertson.
Some say that the early summer was slow, but business has gotten better of late.
“Since the last week of June, it’s really picked up,” said Marsha Albrecht of Cody’s Christmas Shoppe in Berlin. “Right at this very moment, I’m probably even with last year, which in itself is a miracle.”
The fate of Worcester County’s tourism season is inextricably linked to Ocean City’s fortunes, according to Challenger.
“What happens in Ocean City, it really directly impacts what goes on in the rest of the county,” said Challenger. “If there aren’t as many people in Ocean City, there won’t be as many people shopping and milling around and as much foot traffic in Berlin.”
Requests for information from the Worcester County Tourism office are high, a good indicator of interest in the area.
“People have been requesting our visitors’ guide like crazy,” Challenger said.
Most visitors to Worcester County stay in Ocean City because of the resort’s attractions and also because accommodation is concentrated in the resort, and it can be more difficult to attract them into the rest of the county.
“Our biggest challenge is getting people aware of those options,” Challenger said.
Berlin, in particular, has increased efforts to attract tourists in recent years.
“We’ve done a lot of advertising and promotions so I think they’re happy with how things are going so far,” said Michael Day, coordinator of Berlin’s Main Sreet. initiative.
Increased advertising coupled with iPod giveaways, coupons and additional events seem to be attracting more tourists to the little historic town.
Second Friday events in Berlin, which include a concert and late closing shops, promote local retailers through a merchants showcase at The Globe. According to Albrecht, the showcase has been successful.
“I think we’re attracting different people from Ocean City and the campgrounds,” Albrecht said. “There’s constantly something going on.”
Taylor added, “Berlin’s become more popular with people visiting. There seems to be a lot of people in town.”
The Taylor House and the nine other museums in Worcester County offer a passport program. When a child has three stamps from three different county museums, they can get a free T-shirt. A child with stamps from all 10 museums receives a $25 savings bond.
Furnace Town offers a scavenger hunt, geared at children of different age levels, memory key bookmarks for adults and complimentary straw fans.
“Some of the best days are the hot days. The beach is very hot and we’re under shade,” Fisher said.
Donoway said the people that come to the Pocomoke Canoe Company are usually those who are staying a week at the beach and looking to experience something unique.
“People who are staying in Ocean City for a week [sometimes] want to do something a little different,” said Donoway of the canoe company’s customers.
Challenger, whose job it is to look at tourism trends, still sees some cause for concern this summer, despite the reports this week. Last weekend, on a visit to Ocean City, she did not encounter the usual weekend traffic.
“I drove right in. I didn’t have any traffic back ups on the [Route 50] bridge,” Challenger said. “If Ocean City doesn’t do well, we’re not going to do well.”