OC Visitor Survey Finds 89% Plan To Return Next Year; Clean Beaches Ranked As Key Factor

OC Visitor Survey Finds 89% Plan To Return Next Year; Clean Beaches Ranked As Key Factor
File photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY — The big takeaway from the resort’s recently completed comprehensive visitor survey is 89 percent of those surveyed intend to visit Ocean City again in 2018 and 86 percent reported the town is a safe place to visit.

Resort officials this week got their first look at some raw data from a comprehensive visitor survey conducted in October. In July, the Mayor and Council exercised an option to renew the town’s contract with the advertising agency MGH, but not before a spirited discussion on the need for some kind of marketing survey to best determine how and where to distribute the resort’s advertising budget.

Out of that discussion came a decision to pursue a marketing survey to help ensure the town’s advertising efforts were reaching the desired target audience. The intent of the survey was to create a snapshot of the typical visitor to Ocean City including where they come from, how often they come, why they come to the resort or why they chose other destinations for their vacations, among others.

On Monday, MGH’s Andy Malis presented the preliminary data to the Tourism Commission and made the same presentation to the full Mayor and Council on Monday night. Malis explained the survey was completed by nearly 7,000 respondents, a large majority of whom were reached through the town’s website email list. However, a significant number of surveys were completed by the visitors to the websites of individual hotels and other accommodations.

Not surprisingly, 36 percent of those who responded to the survey were from Maryland followed closely by Pennsylvania at 35 percent. Other states in single-digit percentages were New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Virginia. Malis said the significant number of respondents to the survey will give MGH and town tourism officials a good baseline for comparison with future surveys.

“I think it will create a very good model going forward,” he said. “The task at hand is to gain an understanding the perception of Ocean City and I think this gives us a very good jumping off point.”

The preliminary results attempt to paint a picture of the typical visitor to Ocean City. For example, 45 percent reported they live in a household with their spouse or significant other with no children at home. Another 39 percent reported they live with children of various ages in their home, while 11 percent reported they are single or live alone.

Malis said one of the big takeaways from the preliminary data is the staying power Ocean City has with the majority of the respondents. A whopping 63 percent reported they first visited Ocean City more than 20 years ago. Another 14 percent reported they have been coming to Ocean City for the last 10 to 20 years. Just eight percent said they visited Ocean City for the first time within the last year.

However, Malis said the biggest takeaway for him as he reviewed the data was the high percentage of respondents who reported they will keep coming back to Ocean City. According to the survey results, 89 percent reported they are likely to visit Ocean City again in 2018.

A look at the respondents’ most important factors when deciding where to take a beach vacation revealed Ocean City is well-positioned to reach the target audience for the most part. For example, 62 percent said clean beaches were a key factor, while 60 percent reported affordable accommodations as their deciding factor. Good restaurants came in at 52 percent, while reasonable driving distance came in at 40 percent reported family-friendly activities as a deciding factor.

Half the respondents reported youth sports events and tournaments as a major factor in determining how, when and where they vacation. It was a point not lost on resort officials.

“Fifty percent of the respondents involved with sports say tournaments impact where they vacation,” said Malis. “Our biggest competitors aren’t Myrtle Beach or Hershey Park. It could be a youth lacrosse tournament or other youth sports event.”

Another key factor for those respondents in choosing a vacation destination was public safety. To that end, 86 percent of those who responded agreed Ocean City is a safe destination to visit with family and friends. Malis said there was a clear gap in Ocean City’s perception as a safe destination from respondents from Maryland.

“Only six percent of those who completed the survey believe Ocean City is not safe,” he said. “The majority of those who believe Ocean City is not safe are from Maryland. Why? Because we believe that can be chalked up to the fact that any negative event that happens in Ocean City are more likely to be covered in Maryland.”

A question regarding why some respondents have not visited Ocean City in the past two years was across the board. Some responded a change in their financial situation, while others said hectic work schedules with often two working parents limited family beach vacations.

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.