OCEAN CITY — A review this month of a recent survey of visitor trends in Ocean City revealed many tried and true adages and resort tourism officials are now wrestling with how best to use the information.
During the Nov. 13 Tourism Commission meeting, Tourism Director Donna Abbott outlined some of the findings of a recent survey sent out to hotels, motels and vacation rental operations in the resort. A total of 245 emails were sent out, from which 52 responses were returned.
While the sample size was not enormous, it did provide some useful information on vacationing trends and potential marketing opportunities. There were no major surprises in the results, indicating Ocean City continues to appeal to the same audience it has for generations, for the most part, but there were some interesting indicators in terms of average length of stay, for example.
“What we found was the average length of stay for the hotels and motels was three nights or less,” said Abbott. “The primary demographic continues to be families with children, which is no surprise. That’s a good thing and it’s a target audience.”
What was interesting, however, is that vacation rentals were seeing bookings more in line with the traditional Saturday to Saturday vacations seen in years past.
“For the rentals, the average length of stay was six nights or less,” she said. “That’s not surprising either. The rentals tend to host more of the traditional vacationers.”
It’s no secret Ocean City, like many resort areas, continue to struggle with mid-week bookings, a challenge borne out of societal and familial changes. No less important are economic factors related to traditional week-long vacations.
“Those surveyed revealed they are practically booked completely on weekends in the peak season, although there are still issues with mid-week,” she said. “For example, the hotels and motels surveyed reported they were just 53% booked on Wednesday and Thursday. The vacation rentals did a little better at about three-quarters booked during the week.”
Abbott said the annual surveys help her department determine how best to direct the town’s marketing efforts. She said nothing in the results suggested a major departure from what the town is already doing.
“We still need to continue to market, especially during the spring when most are making their vacation plans,” she said. “The target market continues to be adults ages 25-49, with an average household income of $100,000-plus. We don’t see the need to change that.”
Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce Executive Director and CEO Melanie Pursel said the rentals are seeing more of the traditional summer vacations than the hotels and motels.
“The vacation rentals are still getting generational bookings,” she said. “That’s grandma, grandpa and their children and their children’s children booking for the whole family. I know that’s how our family typically travels.”
Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association Director Susan Jones said future marketing plans could target more specific and directed audiences.
“I’d like to see something more defined instead of such a broad demographic,” she said. “How do we reach the wine-lovers or the eco-tourists? How about marketing all the nightlife alternatives? I’d like to see some drilled-down campaigns.”
However, Council Secretary Mary Knight cautioned against a directed campaign featuring the town’s nightlife.
“Unfortunately, that sometimes becomes a bad rap,” she said. “Fairly or unfairly, we’re already known for having a bar on almost every corner. I think we can take advantage of our culinary tourism, but it’s a fine line.”
While recent marketing campaigns have reached out to Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, New Jersey and other areas further than half a day’s drive to Ocean City, Councilman John Gehrig said the town’s wheelhouse continues to be the Baltimore, Washington, and Philadelphia markets, which can be both a good and a bad thing.
“We have an interesting dynamic,” he said. “We have these big nearby markets where people are making last-minute weather-related decisions. They are going to wait for the forecast and decide whether or not to come. That’s the blessing and sometimes the curse of being near those big metropolitan markets.”
Abbott said at the end of the day, the traditional family destination market will continue to be the center of the resort’s marketing efforts.
“Younger people now with kids of their own want to do the same things they did when they were kids,” she said. “We’re very cognizant of that and a lot of marketing is directed at that demographic.”