Program Would Detail Visitor Trends

OCEAN CITY — Resort tourism officials this week got a look at an innovative data collection platform geared toward tracking visitors to Ocean City, where they stay, how long they stay and what they do when they are in town.

For years, Ocean City officials have tried to pin down a profile of their typical visitors and where they come from with varying degrees of success. From visitor surveys collected at the convention center or the Boardwalk information kiosk, for example, to zip codes provided by participating private sector lodging establishments, the town has a pretty good sense of its visitor market and directs advertising efforts in those identified areas.

However, that information is often cumbersome, recorded on spread sheets and shared among the various tourism agencies such as the Chamber of Commerce and the Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association (HMRA), for example, and ultimately with MGH, the town’s advertising and marketing agency. On Monday, the Tourism Commission reviewed a data collection platform aimed at providing a deeper dive into its visitor data.

Presented by Entrada Insights, the platform collects visitor information by tracking cell phones. The data collected can show where a particular visitor came from, where he or she is staying, what they tend to do while they are here and how long they stay. It might sound a little Big Brother-ish, but the one-stop database could allow the town and its advertising agency to precisely pin down information on its visitors and aggressively market in areas from which its desired guests come from.

“It brings all of the data together with a focus on tourism economy,” said Entrada Insights co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer Jay Kinghorn. “It will help everyone row in the same direction because we’re in turbulent waters right now.”

Kinghorn explained the system can track thousands of visitors and determine where they are coming from and their travel and spending habits.

“The data is gathered from cell phones,” he said. “We can aggregate it down to the zip code level.”

HMRA Executive Director Susan Jones asked if the platform can identify specific types of visitors to the resort area.

“We always talk about the need to increase midweek travel patterns,” she said. “We need to look at the midweek visitors and where they are going and what they’re doing.”

Kinghorn explained the Entrada data collection platform would provide that very type of information.

“We can look at the nuances between visitors,” said Kinghorn. “It can differentiate between the week visitors, the weekend visitors, the overnighters and the day-trippers. It gives you a profile of your guests and where they tend to go.”

Councilman and committee member John Gehrig said the information could be used to target marketing in areas from whence the most desirable visitor comes from.

“It seems if we’re serious about addressing some of our problems, we have to get the best visitor we want,” he said.

Kinghorn agreed, saying, “This can narrow the net you’re casting. It allows you to target the visitors you want and attract those who share the character of the town.”

Conversely, the platform provides information that would allow the town’s marketing efforts to be directed away from potential problem areas.

“You can look at a night in June on the Boardwalk from midnight to 3 a.m.,” said Kinghorn. “You can look at the zip codes and see where they came from. Then, if you choose not to, just don’t market in those areas if they don’t share the town’s values.”

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.