Marketing Report Confirms OC Fared Better Than Others; Data Shows OC’s Hotel Occupancy Surpasses Competitors

OCEAN CITY — If it’s true the proof is in the pudding, then Ocean City continues to outpace its beach destination competitors in several key indicators, town officials learned this week during an overview of the resort’s 2015 marketing campaign.

The Mayor and Council on Tuesday got an extensive overview of the resort’s 2015 marketing campaign from MGH, the town’s contracted advertising agency. MGH President Andy Malis presented data on several key indicators and a statistical comparison to similar destinations along the east coast, revealing Ocean City continues to outpace its rivals in terms of marketing and advertising.

Buoyed by the success of the “Vacation Day” campaign, during which potential visitors were urged to stop using work-related vacation days on doctor’s appointments, oil changes and other mundane tasks, Ocean City extended its reach in 2015 and saw considerable increases in several key indicators, according to Malis.

“There’s a lot of good news in this report this year,” he said. “We’re going to continue the momentum from the Vacation Day campaign.”

During the presentation, Mayor and Acting City Manager Rick Meehan reported he had just received an email on the September room tax figures, which suggested the marketing campaign continued to bear results into the shoulder season. Meehan told his colleagues the September report indicated a nearly 22-percent increase in the room tax revenue for September, coupled with a nearly 36-percent increase in the food tax.

“Timing is everything,” Meehan said. “I just got the report and it shows everything we’re doing is working. There’s a lot of enthusiasm and everybody is buying into it and wanting to be a part of it.”

Mallis reported Ocean City led all competitors in several key indicators including occupancy, average daily rates and revenue per available room. Occupancy from May to August was 76.6 percent, representing an increase of 3.4 percent over 2014. The next closest competitor was Virginia Beach with 75.1 percent. The Delaware beaches, Myrtle Beach and coastal Carolina all came in at around 73 percent, according to the data presented. Interestingly, Atlantic City had the lowest occupancy percentage on the list of mid-Atlantic destinations at around 64 percent, followed closely by the Jersey shore at about 67 percent.

In terms of average daily rate, Ocean City again led the mid-Atlantic destinations at $191.56, representing an increase of about 2 percent over 2014. Virginia Beach and the Delaware beaches were the next closest, each at around $164. Myrtle Beach was next at roughly $156, followed by coastal Carolina ($146), Jersey shore ($134) and Atlantic City ($126).

In terms of revenue per available room, Ocean City was far and away the highest at $150.25. The next closest was Virginia Beach at $124.84, the Delaware beaches at $121.58 and Myrtle Beach at $116.49. All of the other mid-Atlantic destinations saw revenue per available room rates at under $100.

“The numbers are pretty startling,” said Mallis. “I look at these numbers as being positive because they relate directly to demand. People want to be in Ocean City.”

Statistics can be interpreted in many ways and some including the average daily rate and the revenue per available room, for example, could be spun to indicate Ocean City is more expensive than its competitors. However, the fact Ocean City leads its east coast rivals in occupancy percentage suggests the opposite.

Room tax is another key indicator for a destination’s marketing success and Ocean City saw its room tax revenue continue to increase substantially in 2015. From a low of $9.6 million in 2009, Ocean City’s room tax revenue has steadily increased each year since, hitting $12.5 million in 2015, representing an increase of 30 percent in seven years.

Malis explained Ocean City’s marketing campaign continues to be a multi-pronged approach with traditional television and radio ads, print advertising in regional publications and perhaps most importantly in this day and age, the Internet. Malis showed dramatic increases in visits to the town’s website as an indicator of the town’s Internet marketing efforts.

For example, the town’s website drew 150,000 unique visitors in July 2008, but the average number of website visitors in July from 2009 to 2015 had soared to nearly 400,000. Malis explained 2008 was used as the baseline in the comparison because that was the last year before the town’s website underwent an extensive overhaul to reflect the changing marketing strategy. In a closer comparison, the town’s website drew around 350,000 visitors in July 2014, but the number had increased to well over 400,000 in July 2015.

Malis also presented information on the changing ways visitors were finding the town’s website. In 2015, 50 percent of all website visits were generated by mobile devices including smart phones. By comparison, 35 percent of the visits were generated by desktop computers and 15 percent were generated by tablets.

Malis also presented data on how the visitors were searching for information on Ocean City. There were over one million “impressions” in 2015, but the key words for searches showed some anomalies. The top searched key word for Ocean City continued to be the Boardwalk, along with Ocean City, Maryland and Ocean City, Md., but “beach front rentals” and “house rentals in Ocean City” cracked the key word top five this year.

“For the first time ever, accommodations were in the top five search key words for Ocean City,” he said. “I’m not sure what to make of that yet.”

Social media, including Facebook and Twitter, for example, continue to evolve as the leading ways to reach more people. For example, the Town of Ocean City’s Facebook page currently has over 879,000 “likes” sharing information daily about special deals, free special events and other information.

“We’re really ahead of the curve with social media,” said Malis. “With 879,000 unique followers, the benefit is tremendous. The things we’ve done over the years with social media are really paying off.”

Councilmember and Tourism Commission Chair Mary Knight said the town should continue to utilize social media, particularly Facebook, for its marketing efforts. Knight pointed to a Facebook post by Meehan during the Nor’easter in October of the dinosaur attraction on the beach half submerged in the blowing sand as an example. The mayor’s dinosaur post received over 5,000 “likes” and ultimately reached nearly 300,000 users.

“We need to make sure to continue to promote the town of Ocean City’s Facebook page,” she said. “It provides a lot of important information and it’s really fun to read what people have to say about Ocean City. I think the goal this year is to reach one million likes.”

Malis explained MGH and Ocean City continue to direct their interactive media buys in the resort’s traditional markets including Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and New York. In terms of the latter, Malis said there was an increasing effort to reach beyond the traditional New York City markets.

“We’re looking at expanding our reach into upstate New York and beyond and get them to bypass the Jersey shore,” he said. “The further away, the less likely they come for just the weekend.”

Similarly, Malis explained the resort’s marketing campaign would continue to emphasize its 10 miles of clean, free beaches, with the emphasis on free, as it competes with its neighbors to the north.

“We’ll always emphasize our free beach,” he said. “Even though it’s a modest amount of money, you have to pay to go to the beach in New Jersey and that works to our advantage.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.