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Members of the Tourism Commission discussed rebranding the city's image and targeting outside markets last Wednesday, Nov. 13. 

Tourism Commission seeks to rebrand and target other markets and demographics

(Nov. 22, 2019) A survey of hotel, motel and vacation rental owners confirmed Ocean City’s status as a “Family Fun” resort, but members of the Tourism Commission want to take the city beyond this image. 

“Ocean City can be experiential, but it’s not experiential for people in Baltimore and Harrisburg, it’s just not,” Councilman John Gehrig said. “There are other people who have never been here, and a lot of those people are from further away … and they will stay longer.”

Gehrig’s comments followed survey responses from members of the Ocean City Convention and Visitors Bureau, which includes hotel, motel and vacation rental owners. 

“The objective was to better understand the current opportunities and challenges that Convention and Visitors Bureau members were facing,” said Donna Abbott, the city’s director of tourism and marketing. 

Abbott said the results show that the majority of Ocean City guests were families with small children, followed by young couples without children and groups of friends. 

Guests were staying an average of three nights or less at hotels and motels, and stayed six nights or less at vacation rentals. 

Sunday through Tuesday saw the fewest guests, while weekends saw the most. 

Bookings typically occurred in May or the summer, indicating a shift away from the trend of booking a room several months in advance. 

Much of the Ocean City visitor crowd comes from Baltimore, Washington D.C. and Virginia, and the city targets an age group between 25 to 49 years old. 

Gehrig said the city needs to begin following trends so it can compete with competitors and become “experiential,” as in offering something completely new and exciting. 

He said residents of nearby markets such as Baltimore and Washington D.C., are already familiar with Ocean City, and therefore are more likely to come for day trips. 

Instead, the city should focus its advertising efforts on states such as West Virginia and Ohio, where a family trip to the beach may be more appealing and exciting. 

In addition, because of the travel distance, these guests were more likely to book for multiple days, he said.

He pointed to Pittsburgh and upstate New York as examples of markets the city had successfully entered.

Gehrig also said the city needs to expand its target demographic, and begin catering toward younger couples with no children and empty nesters.

Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association member Tom Tawney said the city needs to market more of its nightlife in order to do so, but Council Secretary Mary Knight said the move could alienate established visitors. 

“Unfortunately, that’s one of the bad reps we get … that there’s a bar on every corner [or that] there’s a nightclub on every corner,” Knight said. 

She said because of this association, people assume that the resort is ridden with crime, thus marketing the city’s nightlife could backfire.

Susan Jones, executive director of the Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, suggested moving away from age demographics and focusing on interests, such as gastronomy and wine, instead, which drew warm responses from other members. 

Abbott said she would draw up a presentation that refocused the city’s target markets in terms of age, location and interest, and would present it to the commission in January.

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