Ocean City hopes for sun, lots of summer visitors


Ocean City's tourism season officially begins on Memorial Day, of course. But old-timers know summer really starts in earnest Fourth of July week. Will it boom or fizzle this year? Ask the meteorologists, for they may know best.

On the 10-mile stretch of sand, which attracts more than 4 million visitors each summer, so much depends on the weather. And this, traditionally the biggest resort holiday of the season, is no exception, say town officials and business owners.

Expectations run high for this week and for the rest of the season, based on strong tourist turnout so far -- about 250,000 to 260,000 visitors a week.

Ruan Harbour

President, Ocean City Hotel, Motel and Restaurant Association

I think it's going to be a strong season if the weather holds out. We're on par or a little ahead of last year. Now, our city and individual hotels are marketing to a wider area -- to the northeast, Ohio, Pittsburgh and New Jersey. I think the visitor base has expanded -- where they come from -- and I think that's directly due to the combined efforts of the city and the individual properties marketing differently. I think we see a more expanded season based on those same reasons.

We're giving them festivals and reasons to come into the city. I think we kept our image good as a family resort, and I think there's a vast market out there that wants a family resort. . . .

What we see is that the guests perhaps will not make a weeklong stay, but we'll find them spending two or three nights perhaps two or three times a season.

Martha Clements

OC public relations director

The season is going well. We've had peculiar weather in June, cloudly and overcast one day, then sunny the next. It's just mostly been overcast. We're so glad to see the sun; we started to think it went on vacation. Weather drives us. How the week goes or the summer goes depends on the weather. The weather makes and breaks us. . . .

Actually, July 4 weekend is when we can really say summer is here. I think it's going to be a great summer. I think everybody's been holding the line on food costs and room costs because I think they saw last summer people are cautious with their spending. It's a fairly conservative or reasonable '90s attitude. They seem to be spending money wisely. They are going to the amusement parks, they are playing mini golf, they are going to the stores. They're just not spending a fortune.

We've noticed that more people are coming from New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut. We promote in that market, and a lot of those people find that our beaches are cleaner and they're free.

We're just hoping for good weather; we just hope the sun will remember where we are and sit over us every day. It can rain every night, but we just hope it won't rain during the day.

James Mathias

City councilman, owner of Gentleman Jim's Billiards and a T-shirt shop

We had a harsh winter in 1994. What that meant was higher-than average utility bills, unexpected repairs [because of auto accidents, for example]. The mild winter weather of '95, I think, conversely led people to have a more optimistic outlook when they came to the beach this spring. Right now, it's all weather-driven. It appears things are a little better now.. . .

There is so much competition in the resort industry today -- not only other resorts but the Aquarium, Camden Yards.

With a sluggish economy, people have less disposable income. I think constantly as a town official, we have to be aware of that. . . . It's very competitive in Ocean City today. In my opinion, in this economy that we are in, it's a very value-driven economy, and I think people are looking to value. You basically have to be very attentive to value in order to ensure success.

Dee Rigsby

Director of rentals, O'Conor, Piper & Flynn

We are way ahead of last year. Last year, we were ahead of the year before. I think each year, people are staying close to home. I think people are not traveling as far away from their homes as they used to. I think it's money, and time. . . .

At one time, the bay side didn't rent as well as the oceanfront, but now they're equal because there's so many activities on the bay. You used to see people carrying boats down on the weekends; now it's Jet Skis.

As soon as the weather starts turning hot like it did early in the season, when we had such a hot spring, the rentals come in really powerful. Now, the phones are ringing off the hook. For the remainder of July and August, we're practically out of units. For the last two weeks of August, we still have some units left, but we're really getting booked. Up to Aug. 12, we have very little left.

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