Crowd Estimate Formula Needs Some Tweaking

OCEAN CITY – For many years Demoflush has estimated Ocean City’s tourism population but the questionable metric has become even more skewed as more efficient equipment is being installed in homes and in the town’s wastewater treatment plant.
During a discussion over an increase in room tax collected in the last fiscal year at the Mayor and City Council meeting on Monday evening, it was brought to attention that the Demoflush formula has become even more slanted in representing the estimation of population in town due to more efficient equipment being installed at the Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) over a year ago.
Demoflush figures are estimations on the population in Ocean City based on wastewater flow from Ocean City provided by the Ocean City Wastewater Division and calculated by the resort government’s Tourism Department.
Room tax revenue collected has been on the rise this summer but it was questioned how that could be when Demoflush numbers have been steadily decreasing. For example, the first weekend in June Demoflush estimated 204,647 people in Ocean City, which was a 23.5-percent decrease from last year but the amount of room tax collected in June increased by .83 percent.
“Demoflush does not work,” Mayor Rick Meehan said during the discussion. “That formula needs to be updated.”
Councilman Dennis Dare, who is also an engineer, explained a change in operations at the WWTP has had a small effect on the Demoflush formula.
The winter before last new Dissolved Air Flotation (DAF) units were installed at the WWTP that are more efficient. A DAF is a water treatment process that clarifies wastewater by removing suspended matter such as oil or solids. The removal is achieved by dissolving air in the water or wastewater under pressure and then releasing the air at atmospheric pressure in a flotation tank or basin. The released air forms tiny bubbles which adhere to the suspended matter causing the suspended matter to float to the surface of the water where it may then be removed by a skimming device.
Ocean City Public Works Deputy Director Jim Parsons explained the WWTP tracks the wastewater flow that enters the plant, which is the internal influent flow, and that is measured by the plant’s main influent flow meter. That number is recorded on a daily basis and reported to the Planning and Zoning Department, who includes that into the Demoflush formula to come up with an estimation of population.
“More efficient units mean we have to send less water in a circle. However, that water that does go in a circle is captured by the influent flow meter and measured as influent flow,” Parsons said. “Meaning when we got more efficient there was less of it [wastewater] being measured and the Demoflush formula was not adjusted to account for that.”
Another item to keep in mind is the water saving fixtures being installed in homes today, such as toilets and sinks that have also become more energy efficient and is decreasing the amount of wastewater flow.
“That has been going on for years and has been a long-term trend,” Parsons said.
According to Tourism Director Donna Abbott, there has been a consensus building for some time that when it comes to measuring tourism and marketing campaign success more should be looked at besides Demoflush.
“A lot of things have happened since Demoflush was first adopted. It is far from being a proven science as far as an exact count goes. It has always been a ball park estimate but no other destination I believe uses that type of measurement. So if there is a better way I think we should be looking at it,” Abbott said.
Since March, the Tourism Commission and a subcommittee have been crafting a new tourism metric that creates a clearer picture of the amount of people passing through Ocean City and the results of the town’s marketing dollars.
The result is a dashboard of information collected including weather history received from the National Weather Service, tourism taxes, lodging data collected from Smith Travel Research, web marketing results, the number of subscribers for the Tourism Department’s e-newsletters and the Chamber of Commerce’s Visitor Guide, as well a record of zip codes from where requests for Visitors Guide derive from, the number of print advertising requests and the phone calls received by 1-800-OC-OCEAN, Visitor Center stats, the number of Ocean City’s official Facebook page fans and Twitter followers, attendance of town events such as Springfest, bus ridership and revenue, Inlet parking lot revenue, the number of bus permits issued, the number of rounds of golf played at Ocean City’s golf course, the amount of solid waste collected, and finally Demoflush results.