OCEAN CITY -- With another cool weekend on tap, business and tourism officials here are hoping for a turnaround in the weather to jump-start what has been a lackluster vacation season so far.
"It's been very, very slow because of the extreme wet conditions," said Martha O. Clements, a tourism spokeswoman for Ocean City. "The weather drives business. The rain has really hurt."
Like the rest of Maryland, Ocean City has counted weekend after weekend of rain and cool temperatures. And that has kept vacationers, who have swarmed here in growing numbers the past few years, at home.
"It's been slow -- with an exclamation mark to follow," said Paul Wall, vice president of Phillips restaurants. "Why come here and sit in a hotel room and be gloomy? You can do that at home."
Typically, rain is a boon for Ocean City's retail stores and indoor shopping centers.
But not this season.
"We usually have to battle the sun," said James Whittemore, manager of the Gold Coast Mall.
"You would think the rain would have driven people inside. But I think they just haven't been here."
So-called demo-flush figures, which use sewage flow to estimate how many people are in the resort, bear that out. The figures show that that the number of visitors is tens of thousands lower than on comparable weekends last year.
Weekend traffic counts on the Bay Bridge also indicate a decline in beach traffic. From Memorial Day weekend through last weekend, nearly 30,000 fewer cars have made the eastbound crossing on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Although business was brisk on a recent night at Trimper's Rides on the Boardwalk, secretary Johnnie Jett said the season has been "a killer."
"The crowds are down -- definitely," she said. "We had some good weekends last winter. It looked more like summer then."
What Ms. Jett has found, however, is that people who are comingto Ocean City are spending money.
"They don't seem to mind spending money, even though the economy has been bad," she said.
Once the weather becomes summerlike, business owners say, they expect to benefit from the recession-induced trend of closer-to-home vacations.
"I think we're going to come out all right," said Adam Showell, one of the owners and general manager of the beachfront Castle in the Sand motel. "I would have questioned that a month ago. But the weather has a lot to do with it."
Mary Tawney, administrator for the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association Inc., said reservations "look good" for the weeks ahead, especially the Fourth of July weekend. Weather, she said, sets the mood for reservations for the resort's 10,000 hotel and motel rooms.
"If the sun would shine, the people would be here," she said. "People have come here, but they haven't stayed the extra days because of the rain."
If last weekend was any indication, this season's slow start could actually prove beneficial when the clouds finally break by leading to an increased number of sun-hungry vacationers.
"Things turned completely around" thanks to the sunny days last weekend, said Butch Daugherty, general manager for Purnell Properties, which operates five motels. "Reservations look good, and phone calls have been very strong."
Mr. Daugherty said all 338 rooms in the five motels -- Spinnaker, Thunderbird Beach, Sun-N-Fun, Kittiwake and Econo Lodge -- were booked yesterday and today.
"We were off to a real slow start in spring," he said. "We didn't feel like we had much of a spring because of the weather."
But he too is optimistic about the summer.
"It seems a lot of people who have not visited here so far will be here later this summer," he said.