OCEAN CITY – The annual Harbor Day at the Docks will be expanding into a multi-day festival in the near future, as the resort looks to draw more out-of-towners to the area in October.
Chair of the Tourism Advisory Board (TAB) Melanie Pursel explained to the Mayor and City Council Tuesday that it is time for the Harbor Day at the Docks event to expand.
Harbor Day has been in the works for the past three years and has become a successful and strong event for the Ocean City area. This year’s event is planned for Oct. 1 and takes place in the West Ocean City Commercial Fishing Harbor.
Harbor Day at the Docks is an educational event exposing visitors to Eastern Shore maritime culture and traditions through a variation of exhibits, interpretive displays, professional demonstrations, narrative presentations and traditional crafts.
The event has become so successful that TAB has discussed expanding the festival to a two-day seafood festival. In order to do so, the board asked the Mayor and City Council to use $25,000 of the town’s allocated $300,000 advertising fund to expand the event’s advertising into markets outside of Ocean City in order to attract more out-of-town guests.
“Current advertising is a lot of local advertising, we do a lot of grass roots effort for this event,” Pursel said. “This would allow us to really show off what we have at the harbor that makes Ocean City a unique destination up and down the eastern seaboard and that is what we are really trying to do, set ourselves apart from other destinations.”
Pursel said an upside to expanding Harbor Day is to bring more visitors into Ocean City during the shoulder season.
“This is an October event and it is in West Ocean City, but we feel that it is part of our heritage and it is something that we need to support and move forward with and try to grow,” she said.
TAB was also excited to announce that this year’s Harbor Day at the Docks will unveil three interpretive signs for guests to learn about the history of the fishing industry in Ocean City and to create the harbor as a year-round attraction.
“That is going to give people the chance to go down to the harbor year-round and see what the harbor is all about, go to all the festivals, visit the restaurants, and hopefully stay in Ocean City for the weekend,” Pursel said.
Another benefit to the event is that it continues Ocean City’s free family fun campaign. She said that last year’s children’s tent was “bursting at the seams”. The kids are able to take part in educational and art projects, as well as a touch tank and fish display provided by Martin Fish Company and a “Crabology” demonstration by Phillips Seafood.
“Having the free activities for the children making it a family event and that’s what we want to tell people out of market,” Pursel said. “This is something they can come to, enjoy Ocean City, get something to eat, stay for the weekend, free family fun … we just think it is a perfect fit.”
According to Pursel, the local business community is in support of expanding Harbor Day at the Docks. The Chamber of Commerce, Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association and the county have already been able to secure a number of in‐kind services, donations, and private business sponsorships to cover the events expenses. However, there is just not enough income to fully and effectively market the event out of the area.
Tourism Director Deb Turk explained that for Harbor Day to become its own “standalone campaign” it must generate interest of vendors and talent to become invested as well.
“As your event grows, your return on investment can be reinvested back into ads and talent … but it think we need to begin by getting the word out,” she said.
Mayor Rick Meehan said the expansion of the event has been discussed since last year’s Harbor Day.
“Now is the time to take it to the next level and make it a destination oriented event,” he said. “The more reasons we have to bring people here the more the people that are going to come and putting this together with the advertising agency and get the best bang.”
Councilman Joe Hall was weary of investing in an off-island event but still felt the $25,000 was an affordable expenditure.
“The reality is our advertising budget is for our island properties and on-island businesses, but I do think we benefit by having this event growing and being here,” he said.
The council voted unanimously to approve the $25,000 request.