By Donald Wittkowski
No cash? No problem.
Ocean City is expanding its tourist-friendly vacation app with new features that will eventually give people the convenience of paying for virtually all of their purchases in town on their mobile devices – no cash needed.
“We want it to be universal for Ocean City,” said Michele Gillian, executive director of the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce.
With the approach of the summer tourism season, the Chamber is preparing to make a series of upgrades to the app beginning this month, including the ability for users to buy beach tags and concert tickets on their phones and mobile devices.
An annual contest to win a weeklong vacation giveaway in Ocean City from Aug. 25 to Sept. 1 is also being promoted on the app at http://win.oceancityvacation.com. Contestants must download the app to be entered in the vacation giveaway.
Another new feature known as geofencing will alert app users to such things as special events and sales at local businesses when they enter Ocean City and travel around town.
Ken Wisnefski, founder and chief executive officer of WebiMax, an online marketing firm that is upgrading the app for the Chamber of Commerce, said the new features will put Ocean City “at the forefront of technology” as it looks to attract new visitors in the highly competitive tourism industry.
Wisnefski, in a presentation during a meeting Thursday of the Ocean City Tourism Development Commission, said cashless transactions using the app will appeal to all demographic groups.
“It’s evolving beyond the millennials and into all age groups,” said Wisnefski, an Ocean City resident who is also an owner of OCNJDaily.com.
Wisnefski noted the app is simply another way to combine technology with Ocean City’s traditional, family-friendly attractions to enhance the town’s business community and tourism market.
“They would see the blending of technology with tradition,” he said of Ocean City’s visitors.
The ability to buy beach tags and concert tickets using the app is just the beginning of an array of new features coming this year. Eventually, for instance, app users will be able to pay for parking on their mobile devices.
The most dramatic upgrade will follow this fall, when a new cashless payment system is introduced to give people the option of buying virtually anything in Ocean City using the app, Gillian and Wisnefski said.
Coinciding with the arrival of the holiday shopping season, the cashless system is scheduled to make its debut in October or November at participating shops in the downtown business district and along the Boardwalk, Gillian said.
“This is all great,” said Wes Kazmarck, president of the Boardwalk Merchants Association and a member of the Tourism Development Commission. “Ocean City being ahead (in technology) is great. In three, four years, everybody will be catching up.”
The cashless payment system will allow app users to load gift certificates or money on their mobile devices for purchases at local shops and other businesses.
Eventually, the cashless transactions will be expanded for virtually any type of purchases in Ocean City – from shops to restaurants and from hotels to rental properties. Users could even buy their insurance or pay for dental appointments using the app, Gillian said while giving some examples.
Currently, the app has 9,244 users, Gillian said. It includes a listing of special events, local businesses, places to stay and dine, real estate sales and vacation rentals. It also has a daily beach report.
As new features are added, Gillian and Wisnefski envision the number of app users increasing dramatically in coming months.
“Over the next year, it will grow significantly,” Wisnefski said.
New advertising for shopping, dining and other amenities will also be added to the app, creating even more ways for the city and local businesses to connect with visitors and consumers.
Gillian pointed out that the app is another way the resort town is using technology to market and advertise itself to visitors, particularly the tech-savvy millennials generally ranging in age from 18 to 35.