OCEAN CITY -- Fourth of July festivities are expected to attract a good crowd to Maryland's Atlantic resort, but tourism officials say visitors so far this year have been a bargain-conscious lot.
Tourists are opting for value packages and dining specials.
No longer can businesses assume that people will spend freely, said Alex FauntLeRoy, executive director of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce.
"The amusements are starting to offer special deals and passes," he said. "The consumer is looking for value, and they are stretching their recreation dollar. The efficiency is in great demand so people can cook their own meals."
Sometimes visitors find after they arrive that they have booked a room with kitchen facilities. Then they go grocery shopping, said Mary Lee Tawney of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association.
When dining out, visitors watch the tab.
"We are doing more light fare at the Ocean Club," said Dr. Leonard Berger, who owns the Ocean Club restaurant and the Sheraton Hotel. "The average amount people are spending on dinner is declining and they are not drinking as much."
Restaurant owners are depending on increased volume from early dining and daily dinner specials to make up the difference. "Our revenues are up, but the average tickets are down," Dr. Berger said.
Visitors are making reservations late.
"Our bookings are last minute -- a week out -- based on the weather forecast," said David L. Fincannon, president and general manager of the Princess Royale Oceanfront Hotel and Conference Center.
Ms. Tawney said that as the holiday approached about 80 percent of the city's 10,000 motel and hotel rooms had been booked.
Last year, 326,859 visitors came for the holiday festivities, according to Demoflush population estimates based on wastewater flow. "If the weather is good, we are looking for the same amount of people," said Martha O. Clements, tourism spokeswoman.
A double fireworks display is set for tomorrow night, one over the ocean downtown and the other on the bay near 125th Street. The musical group "Up With People" will perform free today and tomorrow. The annual jamboree will be offered tomorrow afternoon at the 125th Street Northside Park.