Ocean City Today
https://oceancitytoday.villagesoup.com/p/1739817

OC: should WOC get free marketing ride?

By Greg Ellison | Apr 12, 2018
Photo by: Greg Ellison With room taxes in West Ocean City expected to increase during fiscal 2019, and appreciating the end destination is the same for most shore visitors, the Tourism Commission discussed the viability of focusing marketing efforts to highlight the merits of vacationing east of the Route 50 bridge.

(April 13, 2018) The merits of focusing marketing to distinguish Ocean City from unincorporated West Ocean City on the other side of the Route 50 bridge were debated during the Ocean City Tourism Commission meeting on Monday.

Councilman Matt James broached the topic after learning from County Commissioner Joe Mitrecic that room tax revenues have spiked recently in West Ocean City.

“I wanted to discuss … how we differentiate … being in Ocean City or near Ocean City,” he said.

Mitrecic provided the council a quarterly update on March 19 where he noted unincorporated room taxes were expected to grow by about $325,000 during fiscal 2019.

“That’s from the new hotels across the bridge which your advertising dollars help to promote,” Mitrecic told the council.

Councilwoman Mary Knight said she had talked to postal officials about the possibility of assigning West Ocean City its own zip code to separate the areas.

“It’s very difficult [and] based on need,” she said. “It’s not just a petition we can sign.”

Commission member Susan Jones, executive director of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, however, questioned the wisdom of marketing the areas separately.

“Think about it from a visitor standpoint — they don’t know the difference,” she said. “What is the real differentiation?”

Commission member Michael James, president of Hospitality partners and managing partner of the Carousel Group, saw a clear distinction.

“A long walk to the beach,” he said.

Matt James said tourists at hotels in West Ocean City would invariably cross the bridge.

“They’re utilizing the same things that people who stayed in town are using and not paying for it,” he said.

Tourism and Marketing Director Donna Abbott said all existing West Ocean City hotels are members of the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Commission Member Todd Ferrante, while agreeing Ocean City should concentrate marketing dollars to benefit local businesses, also recognized West Ocean City may hold a separate appeal.

“Some people want to stay off the island for various reasons,” he said. “It’s a different niche.”

Michael James asked Abbott what level of funding Ocean City receives from the county tourism department.

Abbott said the county gives her department a roughly $270,000 annual grant.

“Which we do spend on marketing in Ocean City,” she said.

Knight questioned how much the county receives from state tourism grants in total.

“Maybe we could ask for more grant money for advertising which helps everybody,” she said. “We could use it for special events that help the entire area.”

Councilman John Gehrig agreed the topic merited further investigation.

“There are ways to negotiate this, [but] I don’t think we solve it today,” he said.

Matt James suggested asking the county for a slight bump for room tax rates west of the Route 50 bridge.

“I’d be interested in seeing what they have to say about adding half a percent to West Ocean City,” he said. “That’s going to raise the top number and … would increase what we’re getting back.”

In terms of next steps, Abbott said she would confirm the total amount Worcester County received in state tourism grants last year.

For his part Ferrante, said resort towns typically have adjacent areas that attract visitors, and questioned the fiscal sense in driving tourists from West Ocean City.

“I don’t know if you want to spend a great deal of money trying to drive the distinction of not staying there,” he said.

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