By Maddy VitaleOcean City’s business community and tourism industry will soon have a new high-tech tool to help them attract new customers with an expanded app offering cash-free transactions.The app, and the 2018 summer season, were discussed at the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce Business Summit at the Ocean City Yacht Club, 100 Bay Ave., Thursday night.“We want you all to walk with us. This is a new age. We are looking to benefit the business community. We are here for you,” said Executive Director of the Chamber Michele Gillian. “We want to be at the forefront. We want businesses to thrive and hope the businesses come along with us.”Executive Director of the Chamber Michele Gillian tells the audience that the business community should embrace the new features of the app because it will help drive business.Ken Wisnefski, owner of the digital marketing company WebiMax, was the featured speaker at the summit. He has been working with the Chamber and Sturdy Savings Bank to add new features to the app to make it more convenient for people to shop without having to use cash.The Ocean City app currently has 16,000 users. It includes social media marketing and it also highlights reasons to live in or visit Ocean City. There is information about the city and the business community from the Boardwalk to the downtown merchants. The Ocean City Cash Free Program that may be available by the end of the year, will be the next step in attracting more app users.“What we are talking about doing is at the forefront of cutting-edge technology and attracts people who maybe viewed Ocean City as a town stuck in the past,” said Wisnefski, who is also the owner of OCNJDaily.com.Wisnefski, who also spoke during a Chamber Business Summit in the spring, said he continues to focus his attention on attracting tech-savvy millennials to the city. Millennials are people born between 1981 and 1996.He noted that many young people don’t carry cash on them. But like people of all ages, they carry their phones.“One thing that always came up about Ocean City is the notion that most merchants only accept cash. Fewer and fewer people carry cash,” Wisnefski said. “We really looked at the notion of blending the new technology and keeping with traditions. Ocean City Cash Free allows you to make payments through your phone.”There would also be an app where people could give a gift of shopping in Ocean City at all businesses that participate in the Ocean City app.Members of the business community listen to panelists.During a question and answer period, members of the audience asked technical questions about the app and how it would benefit their businesses.Aimee Schultz, owner of JASM, a public relations and consulting firm, asked about the gift card portion of the app.“It sounds awesome. Is that going to be a citywide thing, or do you have to opt in on it?” she asked.“The merchants would need to sign up for it. We need to be able to set up an account and then you would be a validated merchant,” Wisnefski said.The goal is to get merchants to participate in the app to take advantage of the benefits of being a part of it, which would give them more exposure as a business, he said.Wisnefski said the hope is to have the expanded app available by the end of the year.Mayor Jay Gillian noted during the public portion of the summit that the purpose of expanding the app is to help grow Ocean City and enable the businesses to do even better.“We have to handle change,” he said of the new features in the app. “We need to open our minds. We need to think what we can do to be cutting-edge.” Mayor Jay Gillian remarks that the app has some great features.In addition to providing a feature to help retail merchants, the goal is to also help other members of the business community, such as dentists and realtors, Michele Gillian said.While much of the summit dealt with the additions to the app, other speakers provided updates about the 2018 summer season regarding tourism, marketing and revenue.Shawnda McGinnis, marketing manager for the Chamber, described the summer as “different,” citing rainy forecasts for a less than stellar season.She said while the downtown merchants and Boardwalk businesses reported a flat season, there were some highlights.“The avenue continues brand awareness and foot traffic was steady all season,” McGinnis noted of the downtown shopping district. “The Ocean City app was positive.”Patty Talese, of the Downtown Merchants Association, gave a synopsis about tourism. She said the business community continues to promote and advertise through a multitude of ways, including digital, print, TV, billboards and social media platforms. She said an investment in Google ads paid off and Facebook drove great brand awareness to Ocean City.Talese said the app includes just about everything anything wants to know about Ocean City, helping the community stay relevant.Ocean City Chief Financial Officer Frank Donato explained, like McGinnis, that the summer was flat, and pretty similar financially, to that of the year before.However, Donato said, Ocean City has a lot to be happy about, including higher ratables.“At $11.8 billion, we are the third highest of any town in the state of New Jersey,” Donato said of the ratables. “This is a tremendous sign.”Donato also said Ocean City continues to do an excellent job with capital projects.“From the beach to the Boardwalk to the bay, from the First to the Fourth Ward, all the town is being taken care of.” Panelists Frank Donato, Patty Talese, Shawnda McGinnis, Michele Gillian and David Allegretto listen as Ken Wisnefski details the expanded app and hears questions from the audience. Ken Wisnefski, owner of WebiMax, speaks about the cash free feature for the Ocean City app.
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