OCEAN CITY – Well over 100 business owners, elected officials and concerned citizens turned out on Monday for the first-ever Tourism Summit in Ocean City to discuss where the resort has been and where it should go in the future in terms of attracting visitors in an increasingly competitive market.
Before ideas could be batted around in an open forum during the summit at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center on Monday, attendees got an overview of how the combined efforts of the town’s tourism department, the Chamber of Commerce and the Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association are marketing the resort now and what the agencies’ collective plans are for the future. Also presented was an overview of the demographics of Ocean City’s current visitor base, who they are, where they come from, how long they stay and what they do when they get here.
The presentations were sprinkled with equal doses of good news and bad news. On the good news side, the resort continues to attract its share of the tourist market with tradition and loyalty at the center of what keeps visitors coming back year after year, but on the bad news side, those same loyal visitors are coming less frequently and staying for shorter periods of time, according to some of the data collected.
A recurring theme throughout the nearly three-hour summit was the increased cost of a vacation in Ocean City, from the cost of lodging to restaurants to a Happy Meal from McDonalds to a gallon of milk in the grocery store. One unidentified attendee said “It’s not about the dollar amount spent, it’s about the value perceived for it. If they find things cost much more and are not as nice as what they have at home, they’re going to go away disappointed.”
Another major issue tied to the perceived value is the level of customer service in Ocean City. With an increasingly foreign summer workforce on the front lines in the tourism industry in the resort, many in attendance voiced concern with issues such as language barriers and indifference among the front-line workers. One resort area hotelier explained how at her business, the foreign workers were trained well and made to feel welcome and included, which improved their attitude and spilled over to their relationships with her guests.
The issues debated during Monday’s summit were certainly not all negative and there is a strong base established for decades upon which to build in the future. For example, the beach is among the best in the world and the Boardwalk is constantly noted in the national media as one of the best in the country. In the end, the feeling for most who attended the summit was to continue to exploit all the resort area has to offer, be more proactive in problem solving and value perception and instill a stronger commitment to customer service.
“It’s all about hospitality,” said Dr, Leonard Berger, a long-time business leader who owns and operates the Clarion in north Ocean City. “It’s about being nice and making people happy. We have to listen to the people and try to correct what they perceive isn’t right. That’s what keeps people coming back year after year.”
For the complete story on the summit, see Friday’s issue of The Dispatch, which can be picked up at more than 150 outlets in the greater Ocean City area and viewed online at www.mdcoastdispatch.com.