- The Washington Times - Monday, March 25, 2002

Ocean City officials are counting on the beachfront town's appeal as a driving destination to attract hordes of vacationers from the Washington area this summer.
After the September 11 terrorist attacks, Americans continue to be wary about traveling far away from home. Instead they are more likely to travel by car to closer destinations. That's good news for Ocean City, which is about a three-hour drive from Washington.
"Right now our lifestyles have changed and people are looking for drive-to destinations," says Jim Mathias, mayor of Ocean City. "It's going to be a big summer."
Usually Ocean City attracts about 8 million visitors annually 4 million come during the summer. About 26 percent of the summer visitors are from Maryland. Virginia visitors make up about 9.2 percent.
Advance reservations for hotel stays and condominium rentals during the summer are already above the levels they were at this time last year.
Ocean City officials, including Mr. Mathias, made their way to Washington last week to promote the city's continuing redevelopment plans and expanding projects.
"We have to make sure we drive our tourism in an aggressive way," Mr. Mathias says.
This summer, Ocean City will complete the Somerset Model Street project, which is transforming the street between the Boardwalk and Baltimore Avenue into a pedestrian-friendly area with new landscaping and decorative street lighting. The project serves as a link between the Boardwalk and the downtown's inner blocks.
Construction is also under way on a new Sportland Arcade on the Boardwalk. A new 12,000-square-foot Dumser's Ice Cream Factory, which will be the ice cream manufacturing facility and a sit-down restaurant, is expected to open this summer on Baltimore Avenue.

High-tech minibars
An Annapolis-based company has tapped the historic Hay-Adams Hotel as the first hotel in the Washington and Baltimore area to install automated minibars in each of its rooms.
Bartech Systems International has added e-fridge minibars in 145 rooms at the historic hotel. The concept is designed to make hotel operations a bit more simple when it comes to in-room amenities.
The e-fridge is equipped with sensors that are placed under all the products in the minibar. When a guest removes an item, the system automatically sends a message to the hotel's management system, which posts it to the guest's bill. If the item is replaced within 30 seconds, it's not recorded as consumed but hotel staffers are still alerted and need to check whether the product was tampered with. The system tells the hotel which items need to be replenished.
Bartech has more than 70,000 units installed in 220 hotels around the world. The cost of an e-fridge starts at $640 per unit.
The Hay-Adams Hotel, located on H and 16th streets, reopened its doors last week after a four-month closure to undergo $18 million in extensive renovations from new guest rooms to a state-of-the-art phone system and a new heating and air-conditioning system with in-room controls.

Spring drop
Spring pleasure travel is expected to drop this season by 4 percent compared to last year, according to the Travel Industry Association (TIA) of America's Spring 2002 Travelometer.
Americans will make 144.5 million trips of 50 miles or more away from home during March, April and May this year. While it's a decline from last year, it is right on target with figures from spring 2000, which turned out to be a strong travel season.
"Despite the decline in travel this spring, the numbers aren't as bad as we had feared," says William S. Norman, TIA's president and chief executive.
Most of the spring travel about 81 percent will be for pleasure rather than business, according to the report.
What's new?
A.C. Moore, a chain of craft stores based in New Jersey, is opening two new stores in Virginia next month. A 25,000-square-foot store will open in Fair City Mall in Fairfax and a 22,425-square-foot store will open at Crossroads Center in Baileys Crossroads. A.C. Moore just opened a 25,559-square-foot location in Mid Pike Plaza in Rockville on Feb. 14. All three leases were negotiated by H&R; Retail.
Haircolorexpress International, which specializes in hair-color and custom-blended cosmetic services, will open its first location in the Washington area. The 1,400-square-foot salon is expected to open in May in Cleveland Park.
The Westin Fairfax Hotel, located on Massachusetts Avenue in Northwest, is changing its name effective April 1. The 206-room hotel will soon operate under the name Westin Embassy Row, eliminating confusion for travelers who assumed the hotel was located in Fairfax, and not in the District.

Donna De Marco can be reached at 202/636-4884 or at [email protected]washingtontimes.com. Retail & Hospitality runs every other week.

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