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Ocean City

Labor Day brings boost in tourism to OC

(Sept. 6, 2013) After a slow start to the summer season, Ocean City saw visitors out in force for Labor Day weekend, many business owners agreed.

“We had a very strong Labor Day weekend,” owner of de Lazy Lizard Wayne Odachowski said. “We had a very good crowd all weekend long, even yesterday (Monday).”

Stormy weather on Sunday drove some vacationers into restaurants and shops, but the weekend’s overall sunny skies boded well for the resort, Communications Manager for the Town of Ocean City Jessica Waters said.

According to the city’s Demoflush statistics, which estimate population based on wastewater usage, there were 287,694 people in town over the weekend — almost 4 percent more than the 277,303 in Ocean City during Labor Day weekend 2012.

“The restaurants were busy, the hotels were full and people seemed to be having a great time,” Waters said. “I think that this Labor Day went fantastic.”

Resort officials and business owners largely attribute the late start of the summer boom to the cold, rainy weather and below-average ocean temperatures that befell May and June.

“It was a very slow start to the season thanks to the rain,” Executive Director of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association Susan Jones said. “There were both restaurants and smaller motels that definitely struggled.”

But “things seemed to pick up in July and August for most people,” Jones said.

Smith Travel Research, a company that tracks supply and demand data for hotels, backed that claim with a report that surveyed around 30 percent of area hotels, Jones said.

In July, hotel occupancy was up a little over 2 percent from 2012, with an average of 78 percent of rooms filled last month in Ocean City. Of the six other East Coast resorts surveyed in the STR report, only Virginia Beach did better at filling its rooms.

Ocean City’s average revenue per hotel room remained well above the rates in the other resorts, at an average of $223 in July compared to the second-highest rate of $177 in Virginia Beach. That made for an average revenue of $173 per available room in the resort last month.

Those numbers contrast with June, when the resort’s occupancy averaged 69 percent and was down 2 percent from June 2012. A hotel room pulled an average price of $178 that month, for an average revenue of $122 per available room.

STR data for August was not available at press time.

Demoflush numbers averaged 225,785 people in Ocean City this June as compared to 305,112 in July. Last year, those numbers were 250,146 and 304,470, respectively.

The summer rush typically drops off in the third week of August, when families shift into the school year.

“We have six weeks to make a living in this town: We have July 4 to the second weekend in August,” said Maddy Carder, owner of BJs on the Water.

With a slow start to a short season, Carder was pleased to see the Labor Day crowds last weekend.

“Was it a record breaker? No, but it was better than I expected,” she said. “We were lucky the weather wasn’t as bad as they originally said it was going to be.”

Carder said business at BJs has been down overall this summer, blaming a difficult economy for the decline. She said she’s noticed more weekend warriors in town recently, as opposed to visitors on weeklong vacations.

“What we’re finding is people are not here on a weekly basis,” Carder said. “On Mondays and Tuesdays, business is very light.”

The city needs to continue promoting its events to boost business, she said.

With a full slate of weekend festivals in September, visitor numbers should stay strong throughout the month.  BikeFest runs Sept. 12-15, Sunfest is Sept. 19-21 and the Wine on the Beach festival takes place Sept. 27-28.

Family Hotel Manager Mary David of the Lankford Hotel said her business is still busy and the next three weekends are booked solid at the Lankford.

The season has been unstable for the business, though, she said.

“It was more like a rollercoaster. There wasn’t a steady pace of business,” David said. Like Carder, she’s seen steady weekend traffic but a drop in weekday bookings.

Occupancy at the hotel “was down this year a lot of the time,” she said, “but luckily because we were so busy on the weekends … it kind of evened out the revenue.”

David estimated that, on average, the Lankford filled 60 percent of its rooms on weekdays, but 100 percent most weekends.

“It was a newer pattern,” she said. “In the end we’re about even with last year.”

One tactic the hotel will use next year to boost occupancy is moving to more online-based business, something that is becoming increasingly important, Jones said.

“The businesses that are really putting themselves out there online are the ones that are coming out on top,” she said. “It’s probably picked up the last few years, and that could be with the correlation with smartphone use.”

Odachowski said the Lazy Lizard also plans to be “a little bit more aggressive earlier in the season to get the word out” in summer 2014.

“That, and ask Mother Nature for some decent weather and warmer water,” he said.

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