On these first days of January, phones are ringing off the hook at beach motels, according to my business contacts in Ocean City, Maryland.
It happens every year.
You might or might not be surprised to know that some travelers have favorite rooms at favorite vacation spots. Savvy vacationers jump on the phone in January to make sure they get their favorite room for the exact dates they want in July and August. Wait too long, and the rooms with the best views and amenities might be gone.
For some folks who honeymooned at the beach, it’s a matter of sentimental attachment. Same thing for couples who conceived a child while on vacation.
Others just want to make sure they get all the families in their soccer league or motorcycle group together at the same motel.
Even beach motels that are closed for the winter — and that’s most of them — usually have the phones staffed starting Jan. 2 to take reservations. Best time to call at this season of the year is Monday through Friday during regular business hours.
Reserving a place at the beach by early spring used to be de rigueur at resorts like Ocean City. But now, the winter rush of reservations tapers off by the middle of January.
The present trend among travelers is to make reservations later, sometimes at the last minute. Sometimes the last minute is too late!
Many are the reasons why people no longer plan ahead. I believe the main reason is fast communications in the age of social media. We’re used to making a call or sending an email whenever, and expect an immediate response.
Another reason is people are pressed for time, and vacation schedules are not locked in as far in advance as in the old days. The economic troubles of recent years have taken a toll on the middle class. Some people work two jobs, and can’t coordinate time off at the two workplaces. Others simply aren’t confident in January that they’ll be able to afford a vacation come July, or even still be employed.
The family vacation is part of the American Dream that sometimes gets sacrificed to the cause of “austerity.” The one-percenters still vacation at Newport, or Palm Beach or the French Riviera. But for the middle-class, a summer vacation is no longer a sure thing.
People often have no choice but to wait until they get vacation approval from the boss AND spending agreement from the spouse. Usually, it’s not a big problem. Call a week or two in advance, even during the peak of summer, and you’ll probably be able to find a room for a week, or even for a weekend. (Weekends book up first, and there may be a three-day minimum.) If you have special requests — like two rooms side-by-side, or a room on the first floor — call a month or two in advance if you can.
For certain weekends in Ocean City, you really should book as far in advance as possible. Springfest weekend in May is one, especially if you want a hotel or motel near the South end of town. Bike Week in September (not just the weekend, but most of the week), book early, especially if you want the same motel as your friends. The week of the Firefighters Convention in June usually has openings, but don’t wait til the last minute.
And then there’s July 4, which falls on a Friday in 2014. The holiday weekend, and most of the weekdays immediately before and after, are going to be full! How full? As full as a quart of hot coffee in a cup. Please call and make July 4 reservations as soon as you can. January is not too early.
One more thing. Internet reservation sites try to persuade us that we can save money by booking online. Some sites would have us believe we can save even more by waiting until the last minute. Believe what you wish. Let the buyer beware.
Some hotels farm out second-rate rooms to Internet sites. If you get a rate that sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you’re booking sight-unseen at a place you’ve never heard of, and hasn’t been recommended by someone you trust, don’t expect to arrive and find first-class accommodations.
It’s to easy to botch a reservation on the Internet. Talk about your breakdowns in communication! Maybe the credit card didn’t go through and the reservation doesn’t exist. Or, “We have your reservation, but it was for last weekend. Sorry.” If you make an Internet reservation with a special request, forget about it. The special room location you wanted, or the extra bed, will most likely be lost in translation.
Based on my experience in the beach motel biz, I believe you get the best service and the best rates by calling your favorite motel or hotel direct, and speaking to a live human being.
Most online reservation services are probably legit and trustworthy. I’m not trying to criticize them all. But think about it. If you want or need special service, you can get it. But your chances are better if you speak to a human being at a motel you know to be customer-friendly.
Whether you book online or direct, you should receive an email confirmation, or a confirmation letter through the mail, if you requested it. Make sure you read and double-check the dates and rates on the confirmation. If you have any questions or concerns, call the motel and they’ll help you.
If you’re not familiar with Ocean City’s hotels and motels, you can find listings for all of them at the town’s official Web site, ococean.com. The site also has information about restaurants and the schedule of special events.
That’s all the summer vacation advice I have time for, on this winter afternoon. I have to get back to real life, which involves shoveling snow in Gaithersburg. Stay warm.
— John Hayden