Numbers show a better tourism year for Ocean City

July 06, 2011|By SCOTT MUSKA | The Daily Times of Salisbury

OCEAN CITY, Md. — If early numbers are an accurate indication, Ocean City has seen a better tourism season so far this year than in the last one, though not as prosperous a summer as 2009's was by Independence Day.

More people have visited the resort in May and June 2011 than during those months in 2010, according to wastewater flow and room tax figures — two methods town and county officials use to gauge the amount of people visiting.

The demoflush figures — which measure how many times Ocean City's toilets were flushed, by seeing how much wastewater gets treated — reflects an approximation of how many people were in the resort. In May 2011, nearly 893,000 people were in the resort, while about 826,000 came in May 2010. In 2009, however, about 974,000 were here in May. More visited in June 2009 than June 2011 by a margin of about 60,000 people.

The numbers show the resort is trending in a positive direction, said Ocean City spokeswoman Donna Abbott.

"It's excellent news," she said.

Abbott attributed the statistics increase to an economy that is beginning to improve, as well as calm weather and a concerted effort from town officials to promote the area as a nice vacation destination.

"I think we've been proactive in our campaign and that we've positioned ourselves very well in the mid-Atlantic," she said in a phone interview while she was traveling in the Philadelphia area with Mayor Rick Meehan. They were on a trip promoting Ocean City in appearances and media interviews.

Room tax revenue for May this year was more lucrative than in 2010. Statistics show about $1.9 million total taken in so far this year, compared to $1.7 million by this point in 2010. Some of the increase may be due to the fact that some who had been renting condo rooms were neglecting to pay room tax in the past but have since been discovered by the city, according to Susan Jones, executive director of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association.

Rosemary Sheridan of Ocean Pines, Md., said she wouldn't normally drive into Ocean City for the Fourth of July holiday weekend, but came to the Boardwalk this year because her children and granddaughter were visiting.

"I like the Boardwalk and I always bring my grandchildren," Sheridan said.

Debbie Keaton of Germantown, Md., made the trip this year to visit with family from Millsboro. Sitting on the Boardwalk, Keaton said she wanted to enjoy time in the sun, Thrasher's french fries and people-watch.

Keaton said she normally tries to come to the resort town on off-weekends, when it can be less crowded, but made an exception this year.

Ocean City Councilman Brent Ashley has said he's skeptical of how accurately demoflush and room tax numbers represent commerce in the town and maintains that the resort has been in a visitor slump for some time.

Ashley believes visitorship is down due partially to ineffective promotion by the town.

The statistics in the past three years show unpredictability for what will happen in July and August. Despite its lower numbers in the beginning of the season, 2010's visitor numbers eclipsed 2009's in July, August and September.

Abbott said she believes commerce will continue to look up for the rest of the summer.

"Things should go well from what we've been hearing, the weather has been cooperating and we're looking forward to the rest of summer," she said.

The town expects the forthcoming Dew Tour on July 21 to 24 to attract a plethora of visitors to stimulate the local economy as well.

Gas prices have also gone down from the heights they reached earlier this year, when talk of free gas started on the prediction by some town officials that expensive fuel might dissuade some people from driving to the resort.

The summer is "going gangbusters" so far in Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach, according to Carol Everhart, CEO and president of the Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce. Everhart made her inferences from room occupancy, visitor center visitation and requests for information submitted via website or telephone.

The room occupancy numbers have been up from 2010's figures each weekend since the weekend that began May 20, and May's visitor center visitation was up more than 100 people from 2010.

Everhart has been optimistic about this year's tourism season since the first few months of the year, when she was seeing increased visitor information interest at a time when many families were planning their summer vacations.

"When you start getting a lot of these in January and February you start saying, 'We're going to have a great year,' " Everhart said. "Now we're at Fourth of July, and all indicators seem to say we really are going to have a great summer."

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