- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 26, 2005

Ocean City is making waves.

The Maryland vacation resort is targeting rival beaches with some not-so-subtle jabs in this season’s advertising. Even the Outer Banks’ peaceful, 130-mile stretch of sand isn’t safe.

The aggressive marketing efforts are a result of the intense competition among summer getaways. Advertising is more important than ever for places like Ocean City, the Outer Banks and Williamsburg as they fight to hold on to repeat visitors and attract new ones.

“There has never been more competition in the marketplace for people’s time and money,” said Tim Andrews, director of public relations for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

This season, tourist destinations are creating more advertising, shifting their ad dollars and yes, even kicking some sand in their neighbors’ faces to get the word out.

Ocean City, which gets about 4 million visitors between Memorial Day and Labor Day, started running ads in April that picked on the Outer Banks, Mexico and cruise vacations.

The radio spot about the Outer Banks poked fun at how quiet, peaceful and boring the North Carolina ocean resort can be and directed listeners to Ocean City for a more exciting vacation.

The ad got some complaints, including one from the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau.

“I love our name being out there but I thought it was an unneighborly thing to do,” said Carolyn McCormick, managing director of the bureau. “I don’t believe negative advertising belongs in destination marketing.”

The ad ran just a couple weeks before it was pulled and replaced by a similar spot that didn’t mention the Outer Banks by name.

“We thought they were fun,” said Andy Malis, president of MGH Advertising in Owings Mills, Md., which handles the advertising for Ocean City. “When you get too harsh, you turn people off.”

Mr. Malis said Ocean City, with its limited ad budget, targeted other destinations because the competition is greater.

“We have to be a little bit more aggressive to make our case,” he said.

New Ocean City print ads, which will begin running next month, take some subtle shots at other East Coast beaches.

One ad running in the Philadelphia market reads: “The Atlantic is a big ocean. Visit other parts of it.”

Another ad running in the Washington area reads: “It makes sense to travel 500 miles to the ocean. If you live in Ohio.”

Ocean City is expecting more than 242,000 visitors this Memorial Day weekend, which marks the unofficial start of the summer season. The success of the weekend depends on the weather, which is expected to cooperate — although isolated thunderstorms are possible tomorrow, according to weather.com.

About 500,000 Washington-area residents will be heading out of the area for the holiday weekend, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic. Most of them — nearly 447,000 — will travel by car.

The outlook is bright for the rest of the season as leisure travel is expected to increase 2.3 percent this summer, according to the Travel Industry Association of America.

About 70 percent of Americans will go to a beach this summer, so the stakes are high for the area’s ocean resorts. They’re competing with each other and other destinations such as Hawaii, Florida, Mexico and non-beach resorts like Las Vegas or London.

The Outer Banks, which gets about 3 million visitors each summer, has made an aggressive push on the Internet.

Between mid-February and the end of May, the Outer Banks will have spent $300,000 on online advertising. That’s up from between $50,000 and $60,000 spent online during all of last year.

“When the competition is as great as it is, you want the product to be out there as much as you can,” Ms. McCormick said.

Williamsburg started a new $3.6 million cooperative effort called Go Williamsburg, showcasing the Virginia destination as a whole and complementing efforts made by Busch Gardens and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, both of which have their own campaigns running.

Due to recent decline in visitation and hotel occupancy, Williamsburg began imposing a $2-per-night hotel room fee last summer to raise money for the much-needed campaign, said Dave Schulte, executive director of the Williamsburg Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“Competition gets more intense each year,” he said.

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