Rehoboth Beach officials remain optimistic in spite of recession

by Michael K. Lavers

National News Editor

Thursday March 5, 2009

As the deepening recession continues to exert an ever-steep toll across the country, Rehoboth Beach officials remain optimistic they will have a profitable summer.

Chris Miles, co-chair of the Gay Business Association of Rehoboth, conceded local restaurants and other businesses have seen a decline in revenue since the economic crisis broke last September. He stressed, however, he feels the local economy remains strong.

"I don't think it's as dramatic as everybody predicted it was going to be," Miles said. "It still seems it's going to be a busy season for us."

Greg Oliver of the Royal Rose Inn said Rehoboth is quieter than normal during the off-season with less visitors-he also noted the inn saw virtually no business in December. He said some year-round residents have moved away because they cannot find work.

"It's much quieter here during the week," Oliver said. "People have moved to Wilmington or this or that because there's a lot less jobs."

In spite of the recession, he said he feels Rehoboth will continue to draw visitors.

"We're more lucky than most because we're only two hours from 30 million people," Oliver said.

"Gay people seem to be recession proof."

A survey conducted by the San Francisco-based Community Marketing, Inc., last September found only 31 percent of respondents decreased their overall travel. Washington was also among the top 20 travel destinations for LGBT travelers.

Community Marketing senior projects director David Paisley said he feels Rehoboth and other Mid-Atlantic gay resorts should fare better than Hawai'i, New Orleans and other geographically isolated destinations because of their proximity to cities along the I-95 corridor. He further argued local tourism officials should focus their advertising and outreach budgets in those markets and capitalize upon those travelers who may want to vacation closer to home this summer than in previous years.

"The key for these destinations is local outreach," he said. "They have millions of millions of customers who are a car or train ride away."

Pink Banana Media president Matt Skallerud added he feels local businesses should turn to the Internet-and in particular Facebook, Twitter and other social networking Web sites and blogs, to draw potential customers and patrons into their establishments. He said he feels the recession has made these new marketing techniques more attractive as companies continue to cut their advertising budgets.

"You can blog about a new restaurant opening and events and integrate that with photos," Skallerud said. "You're finding destinations that do that are keeping in the forefront of people's minds."

A group of Rehoboth bed and breakfasts plan to advertise in the New York Times in their attempt to lure potential visitors to the beach. Local businesses continue to offer discounts and other deals, and Miles said the GBAR is trying to secure a federal grant to run commercials in nearby media markets.

Oliver expressed optimism Rehoboth will have a good summer.

"Gay people seem to be recession proof," he said.

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.