OCEAN CITY — Ocean City’s new Tourism and Business Development Director Tom Perlozzo has hit the ground running in his first weeks on the job, including a rebranding presentation to tourism officials this week.
Perlozzo was appointed to the newly-created position in April and began his official duties on June 1. On Tuesday, he updated the Ocean City Tourism Commission – comprised of elected officials, business owners and tourism trade representatives — on his first couple weeks in the new position along with a presentation on his vision for getting the most out of his department.
“Everything is running full steam ahead,” he said. “It seems like everything is going well. It’s reflected in the early room tax numbers.”
Perlozzo presented to the commission his early plans and collecting more visitor research and implementing a plan to drive more visitors to the resort and how best to direct the town’s marketing strategy.
“We’re starting to take a dive into our tourism plan,” he said. “I’m recommending the start of a process. That process includes research into finding out what the perception of Ocean City is from our regular vacationers and from those who never come here and why. We think we need a rebranding strategy and what would be our approach and how would we get there.”
Perlozzo said the plan calls for retaining the traditional customer base, while attracting new visitors.
“We want to develop a new customer base,” he said. “We always talk about getting the right customer into Ocean City. We need to create a better mindset about Ocean City.”
Perlozzo said his plan included four phases. The first is planning and research, the second is outreach and analysis, the third is designing the creative and testing it, and, finally, adoption and activation.
Perlozzo said a key element to his plan is research and data collection, an area that has been lacking over the years. For example, in recent years the town and its ad agency MGH have attempted to collect visitor information including zip codes with varying degrees of success through visitor surveys and hotel booking information. Perlozzo said there is technology available to collect better, more accurate visitor data.
“MGH has always complained about getting zip codes from visitors to see if what we’re doing is working,” he said. “We now have that capability. If we want to be number one in our market, we have to have the tools.”
Councilman John Gehrig, a major advocate for the creation of Perlozzo’s position since being elected in 2016, said the town’s traditional marketing strategy has been to go after the week-long or even two-week vacationing families. He said the strategy should include the long, three-day weekend visitors with the large population centers just a few hours drive from the resort.
“You can tell this year is going to be strong,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with the weekend warrior. That’s our market. We can’t put all of our efforts into getting people to spend a week in Ocean City.”
Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association (OCHMRA) Executive Director Susan Jones said unified leadership could be the key to the plan’s efficacy. As it stands now, there is the tourism commission, the Tourism Advisory Board (TAB), and the various quasi-private sector organizations such as the OCHMRA and Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, for example, with many of the same members serving on multiple boards.
“The Tourism and Business Development Director is the captain of the ship,” she said. “I think it’s a fantastic plan. We feel maybe we don’t need TAB anymore because there’s so much overlap as it is with this committee and our organizations.”
There was some discussion about changing language in the town’s ordinance regarding room tax allocations for advertising to create greater flexibility in the use of those funds.
Worcester County Director of Tourism and Economic Development and commission member Melanie Pursel, the former chamber executive director, said some of the room tax funding could be dedicated to research and data collection in order to ensure the marketing strategy is effective.
“Data is so critical to us,” she said. “It’s what you do with the data that’s so important. If we can spend tourism dollars on collecting data, that would be very important.”
Gehrig agreed there could be more flexibility in the allocation of the percentage of room tax dedicated to advertising.
“As we’ve grown, the budget has grown,” he said. “We keep doing the same thing. It would be nice to see a targeted approach based on the data.”
Gehrig recommended the full Mayor and Council change one word in the ordinance regarding how the portion of the room tax is allocated from “advertising” to “marketing,” which would facilitate the use of some of those funds for data collection. The committee unanimously approved that recommendation. The committee also voted to send Perlozzo’s entire presentation to the full Mayor and Council for review.