OCEAN CITY – Rather than voting prematurely to add a centralized booking system to the town’s website, the Mayor and City Council delayed the move to consider the impact it would have on the resort area’s lodging industry.
Ann McGinnis Hillyer of oceancity.com proposed this week to the Mayor and City Council, RezEZ, a central reservations system for booking hotels to be used from the town’s website, ococean.com, the town’s Facebook page and other social media outlets. The system would cost nothing to the town and is ready to be launched, according to Hillyer.
Hillyer submitted in her proposal that Ocean City’s website currently does not have a central reservations system. It has a page where accommodations can be made by selecting individual properties but searches cannot be done by date, as well as prices cannot be compared.
In the past, the town used a central reservation system but it had no branding and the vendor received fees for “modules” to the “free” reservation system, causing some hotels to complain and limiting the functionality of the town’s site.
“The decision to remove the central reservations system stripped the functionality from the town’s site and forced Ocean City visitors to find other sites where the functionality is better,” Hillyer stated.
Hillyer furthered that currently the site offering the best value for the consumer, because of free coupons, is a third party site, which is charging 17 percent to 21 percent, plus commission. Consequently, she said hotels are paying a large amount in commission.
Hillyer concluded that RezEZ will make makes the town’s site the number one stop for value, saving the hotels money and allowing Ocean City to brand the system. She said it would enable the guest to comparison shop and make the reservation directly, as well as provide data to be used for advertising, track bookings and evaluate advertising efforts, segment the market to more effectively promote different areas of town and gather the email addresses and booking habits of Ocean City visitors.
The goal is to reduce lodging rates by having the hotels participate with RezEZ, which will charge a much lower percentage in commission, and in return Ocean City will increase its value in comparison to competing markets.
Councilwoman Mary Knight was impressed with the way the system would collect data from those who made reservations as well as offering booking through the town’s Facebook page.
“We would see that in Pittsburgh … there is a whole lot of booking and we could call our advertising agency and we could direct that media buy,” she said. “We could tweak it and fine tune it, so these analytics could be something that our tourism could use.”
Council Secretary Lloyd Martin felt that the central booking system was a good idea and agreed it would create value for Ocean City, setting a motion to move forward with the proposal.
“It sounds very good but I think we need to confirm what you say and we need to get a reference,” Councilman Joe Hall said directing the council toward further discussion before a vote was made.
Interim Tourism Director Donna Abbott shared that the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association’s (OCHMRA) board voted not to support the proposal but to wait until a permanent tourism director was hired in order to work with that person in making the best decision. In its letter, OCHMRA suggested, if the town moved forward with the concept, it should be posted as a Request For Proposal (RFP) so other businesses could provide their own proposals.
When it appeared a council was imminent, D3Corp President John Gehrig asked to speak, providing his own brief history of the central booking system and the town’s website.
Gehrig said that in 2005 his company was contracted to provide a similar service for the town but at that time the website received much less traffic. As the site’s usage grew, the hotel industry became concerned over commission and representation.
“Remember this is a taxpayer-based website so being involved with this there were a couple of concerns,” Gehrig said.
Gehrig reminded the council that the return of a central booking system to the town’s website has been brought up every year in discussion, but it at least made it to further discussion with the town’s tourism partners.
Last year former Tourism Director Deb Turk assigned OCHMRA to analyze all of the interested companies’ systems but the matter was delayed because there is no easy answer.
“The reason the way we have it right now is because hotels want representation without any commission, so now the guest is in complete control,” Gehrig said.
Gehrigh concluded the only solution was to add all of the companies’ systems to the website, which is the way it is set up currently as a reservations drop down menu.
“The hoteliers prefer going to the site and clicking on each individual hotel, but I think we are losing business because of that,” Mayor Rick Meehan said. “In today’s world, people want to go to one site, type in what they want and everything flash up, rather than going to each individual one. It’s slower and takes too much time and that discourages people.”
Martin ended up withdrawing his motion to move forward with Hillyer’s proposal in order to further the discussion in a future work session.