Ocean City Chamber wins New Jersey tourism award

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OCEAN CITY — For its pinpointed message and an aggressive strategy, the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce – in conjunction with the Ocean City Tourism Development Commission and the city of Ocean City – received a 2014 New Jersey Tourism Excellence Award.

That message, “Ready for your stay,” resonated as the local tourism groups expended more than a half a million dollars promoting Ocean City in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

“It’s very exciting,” said Michele Gillian, executive director of the chamber, of the award, given by the New Jersey Travel Industry Association during the state’s tourism conference Thursday, March 20 in Atlantic City. “The award says a lot about Ocean City and how everyone worked together to get the word out.

“It recognizes that when you have all of your organizations working together, to know their brand and sell Ocean City, it works.”

Gillian said the city’s massive marketing effort paid off. Without it, the most devastating storm to ever hit the Jersey coast could have destroyed the summer of 2013, she said.

After Sandy, preseason chamber website visits were up 17 percent and telephone inquiries up 12 percent, Gillian said. She said actual visits, as determined by the Ocean City Board of Realtors, kept pace with 2012 and reservations at local accommodations were up 5 percent.

Preseason ticket sales for local amusement parks were up 8 percent and visitors to the welcome center increased more than 130 percent, she said.

“Everyone had the same message, the same logo, and it worked,” Gillian said. “Getting out early last year helped this year. It looks like we are going to have a great summer. We’re getting really good reports on rentals and accommodations.”

Gillian said the award recognizes a lot of hard work by a lot of people. Ocean City tourism officials joined forces to help a devastated community recover from Sandy, then set their sights on saving the tourism season.

“We knew we had to work quickly to get the word out that Ocean City was still here,” Gillian said.

She said photos of most devastating images from the storm, including the picture of the Seaside roller coaster in the ocean, being shared by news outlets and online was particularly hard on local tourism.

Gillian said Ocean City’s boardwalk was barely touched, and many businesses and rental homes were able to recover, yet potential visitors believed otherwise.

To combat that image, advertising for billboards, lifestyle magazines and other print publications, websites, social media and television was designed and carefully placed, with a consistent message, she said.

“The storm took enough away from residents and businesses,” Gillian said, adding that it was not going to take away their livelihood, the tourism season.

Ocean City was the first shore community to send the message that they survived the storm, she said.

“Without the aggressive advertising, guests would have assumed that we were wiped out,” she said. “Ocean City had to bring back its regulars and attract new customers.”

Staff members at Ocean City’s Roy Gillian Welcome Center were specifically trained in how to answer thousands of phone calls and emails regarding the storm. Guests were encouraged to return and support local businesses.

“Ocean City is a place where memories are made,” Gillian said.

She said families return year after year to enjoy all Ocean City has to offer.

“The storm is in our past and we have recovered because of the foresight of the chamber, the city and tourism,” Gillian said.

She said it is estimated that the value of the increased sales and revenue will be quadruple the cost of the investment.

“The investment has more than justified its expenditure,” Gillian said. “With the increase in advertising, we have seen an increase in visitors.”

This, she said, is reflected in an increase in tax revenue and fees, which are then reinvested into more advertising.

“It supports our mission of keeping Ocean City in the forefront of our visitor’s minds,” she said.

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