Carol Everhart: The Coastal Sussex Interview

by Dave on July 4, 2009

As first seen in Coastal Sussex Weekly, June 11, 2009:

COASTAL SUSSEX WEEKLY: You’ve been here at the Chamber for a long time, and you’ve seen a lot change. Tell us about some of those changes.

CAROL EVERHART: What’s really changed with the visitation is we’ve had a surge from New York, which for the first time beat our Pennsylvania visitors last year, which was a big change, because Pennsylvania led the way for years and years and years. DC is hard to track, but our top visitation comes from New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, DC, Maryland, New Jersey and Ohio keeps moving up the ranks.

The other thing that’s changed is the way they visit. Years ago, they came for the summer. That changed to a week or more. And now what we see is the visitor comes and they stay for extended weekends. More so than a week or more. And they do it year-round. We always say we’re not 52 weeks a year, but we’re as close as we can get to 52 weekends a year, and they’re extended, particularly when we have a holiday.

It lends itself to busy lifestyles. I think the economy adds to it. In our area, when we established so many additional condominium and townhouse units on the market, and people purchased those thinking they would rent those for the summer. There was a change in availability to the renter.

CSW: What about the radius of visitors? It always seems like we pick up people from farther and farther away.

CE: It’s always been three to four hours away. If you drew a radius of three to four hours away, that’s about 20 million people. We sit in a very sweet spot. So we’re a great location for the extended weekend, which fits right in with the trend. And we have so much to offer. So we have seen that visitor take advantage of how close we are. I can’t say we’ve seen a difference other than the New Yorkers as far as who’s coming, though.

CSW: We’re in the middle of this recession now. How has that affected things?

CE: Last Memorial Day the fear was with the high gas prices that our area might see less visitation. That did not happen. We also did not see less expenditure up until the fall in 2008. Things were very strong, and the gas prices did not impact us. We had as much or more visitation as normal. In fact, we had record-breakers in 2008.

This Memorial Day we were really watching to see, if we had a record-breaker last year, could we match it or come close? What happened was we not only matched it, we had more record-breakers – individual businesses reporting biggest sales days ever. The way they’re spending is changing. They went from frugal to fun in 0.4 seconds. They weren’t spending….weren’t spending…weren’t spending. Then came Memorial Day and if it was fun or food, you could definitely track that spending. If it was an “I can use it” product, for instance something I could wear, even if it was pricey, it was being purchased. If it was something that wasn’t needed or wasn’t going to be used, for instance many of the art stores, home décor, they reported not as strong as last year. It looks as though those types of stores are going to have to work a little harder

to get the visitors in. But if it was fun or food or if I could use it, they were spending on Memorial Day, so we’ll see. And the requests for visitor information are stronger than this time last year.

CSW: With gas prices half of what they were last year, and after a great Memorial Day, is there a sense of optimism?

CE: There’s always this gray area that happens between Memorial Day and when the kids get out of school, and everybody suffers through that because they’re ready. They’re ready when Memorial Day hits, and then there’s a lull, particularly mid-week, until the kids get out of school. So I’d say another week or two, that lull will exist. Based on everything we have, looking just at numbers, we’re going to have a great season. I have no reason to think we’re not going to have as strong or stronger visitation. People like to stay close to home. Looking at our neighboring destinations, they’re not necessarily doing as well – the Carolinas and other beach communities. A part of that is not just what we have to offer, but we have the no tax situation. That is a big plus to our tourism industry.

CSW: What is downtown Rehoboth missing? Is there something that could be added that would help?

CE: The area is missing an indoor attraction, in general. We’ve also been working to get expansion of the transit system. We’d love to see small shuttles around downtown. We’d love to see encouragement of people using the Park and Ride and perhaps that’s where you put the indoor attraction. You’d encourage people to start there, leave their car, get on the transit and streamline the mass transit.

Over the years, we’ve been successful in working with DelDOT to get everything from the Beach Bus, which runs from Wilmington in on the weekends in the summer and has been a huge success, to the one that runs from Ocean City in. Those all started with the same kinds of conversations that we’re having now. The small shuttles downtown, though. We could really use those.

CSW: It’s not too early for people to be planning their fall excursions, so tell us a little about the Sea Witch Festival and what’s planned for this year.

CE: The last full weekend in October is the Sea Witch Festival, and we have great festivals all fall and people need to check them all out – Jazz, Film, all of them. Sea Witch will be 20 years old this year. That’s how I came here. I just came to do an event. It is our largest event in the county, and besides NASCAR, the largest in the state, drawing 100,000 to 150,000 over those two days.

We try to keep what people like and get rid of what they don’t. The horse shows on the beach, the pet costume parade on Sunday, the costume parade on Saturday, the broom-tossing contest, the Sea Witch hunt, the kids’ games on the beach. So far we’ve been successful at it.

CSW: What would you say about the Chamber itself these days?

CE: This particular Chamber of Commerce wears the major marketing hat for the area, as well as the major member services for the area. We’re a little over 1,300 members, and we’re happy to have grown that way. We hope we’re member driven all the time — they certainly let us know! We try to reflect civic responsibility, business responsibility and the tourism industry through marketing.

CSW: You’ve certainly been successful and we wish you success in the future. Thanks.

CE: You’re welcome.

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