(March, 21, 2014) After reviewing proposals for the resort’s much-anticipated strategic tourism plan, the city has decided to scrap the bid process and instead solicit the same consultant used for the city-wide strategic plan that was done this time last year.
“Not that price was the only factor in this, but Lyle’s cost for facilitating this was half of the lowest bidder on the RFP [request for proposals] we issued,” City Manager David Recor said of Lyle Sumek, the Florida-based consultant who worked with the city last year.
“All of the bidders had different approaches…and their prices were all over the place as well,” said city Tourism Director Donna Abbott. “[Sumek] has come back with a very competitive price, and he would not be starting from square one.”
The city has earmarked its $40,000 annual market research allocation toward the strategic tourism planning process.
Over the winter of 2012-2013, Sumek held extensive sessions with elected officials, government employees, business leaders, and citizens to hammer out a five-year strategic vision for the resort.
Despite the long, arduous sessions, the most lasting product of the exercise has been the final two-page action summary that is consulted for most every policy decision. Even if it has not created total political consent on City Council, it has achieved some level of cohesion.
“When we went back at the end of the year and went through everything we had done to address the items on the plan, I was really impressed with what we had done,” said Council Secretary and Tourism Commission Chair Mary Knight. “It has been very satisfying.”
Sumek will be taking a similar approach this time around to a tourism-centric plan.
“This is going to be very performance-based and outcome-based,” Recor said. “You’re going to be able to go back and see results after the first year.”
The city had cast a fairly wide net in its bid document for the tourism plan, specifying that the process “will encompass interviewing key Ocean City tourism stakeholders, evaluating Ocean City tourism assets and conducting a market analysis to incorporate into a strategic plan that will serve as the blueprint for Ocean City’s tourism marketing, identifying target and niche markets and priorities for FY 2015-2020.”
When the proposals came back, Knight said, “nothing we saw as really that specific to what we were asking for.”
Most importantly, officials felt that Sumek’s existing knowledge of the resort would enable him to put together a better market study – knowing who the city’s visitors are, why they come, and how to get more of them.
“We have desperately needed that information anyway, regardless of a bigger five-year plan,” Abbott said.
“Lyle has also suggested a profile of our competitors as well…who they are and what they offer,” Recor said.
One of the most difficult – but most influential – parts of any planning process is selecting the group involved. As before, the effort will center on the core group of officials who make the day-to-day decisions on the matter – in this case, the city’s Tourism Commission. But the process will also solicit feedback from other select stakeholders as well as taking input from the community at large.
“We’re going to be handing out a worksheet, hopefully by next meeting, to collect preliminary data,” Knight told the commission. “Then, Lyle will meet with us all individually and as a group to go over it.”
Discussion, review and revision of the plan will likely take several months, but the goal is to have a working document by the fall.
“The final meeting will be a four-hour summit where anyone at all can come and give input,” Knight said.
Maryland completed a statewide tourism study early last year, which was part of the impetus for the city’s own study.
Hard data as well as anecdotal reports from the 2013 tourist season were mixed, with the city’s tax revenues up but several other indicators staying flat. Room rates and revenue-per-room from large hotels continued to climb, with some voicing concern that the city was making more money off less people and marginalizing some smaller businesses.