By Logan Dubel
For the past few summers, no headline about the beginning of Ocean City’s summer season has seemed normal. However, 2022 is off to a mostly routine start, signaling a return to pre-pandemic norms in the town dominated by summer tourism.
From pandemic closures and forever evolving restrictions in 2020 to staffing shortages and law enforcement controversy in 2021, a simple and successful 2022 is exactly what Ocean City needs.
Still, amidst the tumultuous environment, Ocean City found a way to thrive, as many tourists avoided air travel and enjoyed their vacations within driving distance. First, the influence of stimulus money brought some desperate for an escape down to the shore, and later, the boom in remote work allowed many to take care of business while soaking in an unbeatable view. Although the pandemic took its toll on Ocean City, the town still reaped numerous benefits.
Now, with summer 2022 underway, by all metrics, it is finally a “normal” year.
“The common theme I’m hearing from business owners is that it feels like the summers of 2018 and 2019 – schools have been back in session, and traditional vacations aren’t usually until kids are out,” said Susan Jones, Executive Director of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association. “The summers of 2020 & 2021 were fantastic for us, so we were spoiled.”
Aside from public health, staffing shortages acted as a major concern shared across the business community in recent years. Maryland regularly relies on the assistance of J-1 international workers, primarily in Ocean City, and from 2019 to 2021, the state saw a 58% decrease in summer work travel participants, according to new data released by Bridge USA. While many J-1s have returned, businesses have also altered operations to serve visitors and meet their bottom line in this new environment, easing concerns in 2022.
Undeniably, Ocean City has many pull factors that drive families into town year after year. However, above all, its proximity to countless metropolitan and suburban areas, which allows families to pack the car and hit the road, might be its most attractive attribute. As gas prices soar to nearly $5 per gallon in Maryland, many wonder whether the high prices could put a damper on the number of tourists heading down to the ocean.
Many voiced their views on the impact of the price at the pump on travel in the popular Facebook group, Save Money Ocean City, which has amassed 60,000 followers. Overwhelmingly, people are anxious to relax in the sand and will not let anything stop them. If they do have concerns over their pocketbook, they plan to dine out less once they arrive.
Susan Jones notes that a few smaller properties have reported cancellations over gas prices, but that for the typically busy months of July and August, advanced reservations are strong.
Whether relief is in sight or not, it appears for now that even this latest challenge will not keep loyal visitors from reaching their favorite summertime destination.
For those who have already made their trip, they have likely enjoyed the packed special events calendar. So far, the town has kicked off the season with a bang, with the longtime Ocean City Air Show, as well as newer events including the Jellyfish Festival and Professional Bull Riding event.
Just as the season is picking up at hotels, the same is true for other businesses, including amusements and restaurants.
“The summer is picking up as many of the schools have taken their yearly field trips and enjoyed Splash Mountain Waterpark, Speedworld, and The Amusement Rides at 30th Street & The Pier,” explained Dawn Dillon, Director of Sales and Marketing at Jolly Roger Amusement Park. “It’s great to see the smiles on their faces, and it definitely brightens my day to know that our teams are providing fun in their lives.”
The outlook is just as strong in the restaurant industry.
“Business is very brisk, and we have a shiny outlook for the rest of the season,” said Rick Vach, Owner of Longboard Café. “We are still strongly recommending reservations a day or two in advance.”
Both resort leaders and visitors have their fingers crossed that the smooth sailing continues through Labor Day and beyond.