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Melanie Pursel: Hospitality Person of the Year

If you are in Ocean City this week, you may notice a couple of changes as you drive down Coastal Highway. The speed limit, normally 40 mph through North Ocean City, has been reduced to 30 mph, and Downtown, the speed limit has also been reduced. This is due to the expected, unauthorized H2Oi Pop-Up Rally.  It is reasonable to expect heavier than usual traffic, noise and strict enforcement of vehicle laws during the week and weekend.

Earlier in the month we just knew Melanie Pursel as the Executive Director of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, and usually that’s enough, but now everyone in Maryland’s hospitality industry knows her as the newly honored Audrey Davenport Hospitality Person of the Year Award.

But five years ago she was on the path for neither of those things.
 
“I came to the shore in 2000, and I started out in the tri-county region in workforce development,” she said.
Pursel thinks and talks fast. Her energy is contagious and effusive and if you can’t keep up you’re going to get lost. Don’t expect her to stand around waiting.
 
Which was an asset when she arrived. The Chamber, as she describes it, upon her acceptance of the executive director position needed a bit of a spit shine.
 
“They hadn’t had a director for several months and only a couple of staff who had been there for any amount of time. Some members of the Board of Directors were also new,” she explained. Her previous experience in workforce development had led to some contact with other chambers. Drawing upon that, a skeleton of a plan was formulated and new programs were begun.
 
“We had these really neat, really successful speed-networking sessions,” Pursel explained. The premise is probably familiar. Instead of couples meeting one on one, these events broke participants into small groups where they would meet for a short time, exchange business cards etc., and move along into the next group in the rotation. When the rotations were concluded, lunch was served.
 
“We got such positive feedback. People would tell me they met more people in one hour than they did in two years of traditional networking. We try to have these sessions three times per year, and we average about 40 participants,” she elaborated.
 
The big project now is the completetion of the 2012 visitors guide, which the chamber would like to begin distributing as soon as possible. Only a few years ago the Town and the Chamber each put out their own tourism materials. Today it is a joint venture and it is taking up a good measure of the Chamber’s time. Not that that is the only prize they’ve got their eye on.
 
Events are important for the Chamber and at the most recent annual tourism industry conference where Melanie won the Davenport award. The Ocean City Chamber of Commerce was just one of several award recipients for Harbor Day at the Docks, an event celebrating the rich cultural maritime heritage in Ocean City. The Penguin swim is another important event promoted by Ocean City’s Chamber of Commerce.  The New Year’s Day event brings several hundred lunatics (the one behind this keyboard included) together at the Princess Royale Hotel where they run into the ocean for about as long as they can stand it.  This event has grown considerably in recent years and is raising significant funds for the Atlantic General Hospital. “It’s bringing people in from states away,” she said.
 
One thing that has surprised her is the commitment of the local businesses and residents of Ocean City MD to nonprofit and charitable organizations.
 
“I have never seen the level of community involvement with nonprofits that I see here,” Pursel offered.
 
Certainly, when the crowds stop filling the streets and the leaves begin to fall, the fundraisers begin. Seemingly one great cause after another all get their share of time and space within the community and have the opportunity to share within the bounty of Ocean City.
 
“Our young professionals group has really taken an interest. We have an ongoing United Christmas spirit campaign where the young professionals are going to mentor 35 youths and bring them for a shopping spree for Christmas presents they might not otherwise get,” she explained.
 
These outreach efforts, among many other factors led her very own staff to nominate Melanie Pursel for the Audrey Davenport Hospitality Person of the Year Award.
 
“She has brought the love and passion she has for the area and the importance of the customer through in a way that is easily experienced through her staff. She is certainly at home in the leadership chair and has been key in making changes that add value to what every visitor to Ocean City experiences. Her enthusiasm and energy is contagious. She has a unique way of bringing all parties together to a common ground to improve and build partnerships in the area that have greatly improved the hospitality experience,” Lisa Dennis, quoted in the nomination she prepared, said.
 
The accolades didn’t stop there.
 
Susan Jones, executive director of the Hotel  Motel Restaurant Association was quoted as, ”Before Melanie came to the chamber, there wasn’t a cohesiveness to the chamber. Now that she has been able to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of her organization, she has implemented her customer service skills and strategies that have led the chamber to the forefront of the business community. Melanie has an uncanny ability to bring out the good in any situation.”
 
It appears that she has and it appears that it has shown. Peers and compatriots awarded her the Audrey Davenport award based upon the strong reputation she’s built and the recognition of her abilities by her staff.
 
It’s a daunting task to change industry, but when you take wing and fly within a few short years it’s something to be noted and appreciated. It’s not something everyone can do, but when the accolades start pouring in, it makes the change seem simple.  

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