Early Research Efforts Discussed For OC’s Rebranding Campaign

OCEAN CITY — Efforts to identify and rebrand Ocean City’s image continued this week with the introduction of a couple of parallel programs during the Tourism Commission meeting on Monday.

The commission, comprised of elected officials, town staff and local business representatives, met to continue discussions about rebranding the resort destination’s overall image. In June, the commission got its first look at Tourism and Business Development Director Tom Perlozzo’s plan to begin rebranding the town’s image, a plan later endorsed by the Mayor and Council two weeks later.

On Monday, Perlozzo explained to the commission how the conceptual rebranding plan was coming together with the introduction of a new consultant, a visitor data collection program and a future survey of current visitors to the resort and those who choose to vacation elsewhere.

Perlozzo said he was working with Zartico, a destination marketing software company, on collecting data about Ocean City visitor base.

“What questions will Zartico help Ocean City answer?” he said. “What is the overall visitation movement? Where are they coming from? How many overnight trips versus day trips? Where in Ocean City do convention attendees go? This is the type of data this program will collect.”

Perlozzo said he is also working with AirDNA, which provides a snapshot of increasingly-popular non-traditional short-term rental platforms such as Airbnb and VRBO, for example.

“We’ll be able to scrape data from the Airbnbs and the VRBOs,” he said. “About two-thirds of our visitors are still renting condos, but we will be able to track the other short-term rental platforms and collect data on supply and demand. We’ll also get an insight into pricing. Up to now, we haven’t been able to track that segment of our visitors.”

Perlozzo said yet another segment of his rebranding effort is conducting surveys of current regular visitors and those who choose other vacation destinations. Opinionworks, an independent research organization based in Annapolis will conduct the surveys. Opinionworks’ Steve Raabe explained what the survey hopes to accomplish.

“It’s a brand research project,” he said. “It includes surveys and focus groups. The evaluation will give Ocean City a foundation to refresh its brand. The underlying thing in all of this is we want to open up new market opportunities.”

Raabe explained Ocean City essentially has three audiences from which to glean data and opinions. There are those who currently visit the resort, the general public in the region and travel influencers, such as meeting planners, convention or sports tournament organizers and travel writers and bloggers, for example.

“Some of the topics will be what are your overall experiences and perceptions?” he said. “What is your general impression of Ocean City? How does it compare to other destinations and how do they stack up against Ocean City? What factors are influencing your decision to come here.”

Raabe said the survey will be rolled out online on August 23 and will remain in the field for about five weeks. After that, his organization will analyze the data and make it available to resort decision-makers in about three months.

Not all were pleased with the late roll-out date for the survey. Commission member Kevin Gibbs, representing the Ocean City Development Corporation, said the late August start for the survey would not necessarily represent a cross-section of the visitors to Ocean City. He said a true representation needed to be done earlier in the season.

“What are we trying to accomplish with an Aug. 23 survey?” he said. “That last week of August is not going to give you a database that represents a snapshot of Ocean City. I think we might have missed the boat.”

However, Raabe said the proposed survey will be able to capture impressions from those who visited in June and July, or even those who prefer the shoulder seasons. He also said the intent of the survey is largely to collect impressions and perceptions from those who don’t come, or have never been, to Ocean City.

“Marylanders know Ocean City,” he said. “We’re trying to collect impressions from those that are already coming, but also those people who aren’t coming, or who choose to vacation elsewhere at other destinations. Probably the least important of the three audiences I identified are those that are already coming. We want to capture impressions from the people that aren’t coming. This survey will allow us to do that.”

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.