The effort to entice visitors to the beach is an all-year affair

By Pam George | Photograph by Carolyn Watson
From the May 2018 issue

feature-tourismWith Easter behind us and Memorial Day on the horizon, coastal Sussex denizens are bracing for bumper-to-bumper traffic on Route 1, packed parking lots and long waits in restaurants. This winter, however, residents in many resort towns got a sample of what’s to come.

Over the chilly Presidents Day weekend, it was hard to find a seat for happy hour in Rehoboth. On St. Patrick’s Day, vendors bundled up against the cold and sold ice cream on Rehoboth Avenue to parka-clad patrons.

“We are a destination nearly 52 weekends a year — unless there is bad weather,” says Carol Everhart, president and CEO of the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce.

As a result, the chamber last year dropped plans for Destination Station, a transit hub/visitor center/science attraction that was designed to increase off-season tourism. “About two years ago, it became very clear that the attraction was not needed,” she explains.

That’s not to say that Everhart and her peers can pack up the welcome brochures and slash the advertising budget. For one thing, not everyone strolling Rehoboth’s sidewalks is a tourist. He or she could be a full- or part-time resident in the new communities west of Route 1.

“If it’s a sunny day, people might say: ‘Let’s take a day trip and go into Rehoboth to eat at Fins or Arena’s,” agrees Paul Kuhns, the mayor of Rehoboth Beach and an owner of the Arena’s Deli & Bar restaurant group.

For another, keeping dollars in Delaware takes effort. Southern Delaware is home to more than 25 miles of coastline. New Jersey has 130. Technology, the economy and swiftly changing travel trends are creating opportunities for tourism growth — but also challenges.

“We are constantly adapting to the need,” Everhart says. “Every day is something new.” But one thing stays the same: Visitors are too important to the coastal economy for anyone to take a break from ensuring they have reasons to come.

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