(July 13, 2018) Hoping to boost business during the resort’s downtime, Ocean City officials are considering a new marketing tool that will target advertising messages to the most receptive crowd.
Meeting with the Tourism Commission Monday, David Bahlman, vice president of destination media with ADARA data co-op, presented a working model of a market monitor tool his company is developing.
“Tourism is fragmented [and] a journey for customers takes a long time to go in and book all those different components,” he said. “The idea behind ADARA is how do we connect all those systems.”
Based in Palo Alto, California, ADARA has offices worldwide and focuses on gathering customer intelligence related to online accommodation searches, Bahlman said. The company has a database with booking information from over a billion travelers.
“We have a very large scale, from 5-star type customers down to one-star customers,” he said. “Our network has given us the ability to see over 750 million travelers a month that are raising their hands ready to travel.”
ADARA polls roughly 388 million travelers in North America alone and collects more than 30 data points for each profile, Bahlman said.
“We see all of your booking ultimately [but] we don’t know it’s you,” he said. “We just know how you travel and what you do when you travel.”
Bahlman has worked with Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association Executive Director Susan Jones to develop the analytics tool over the last several months.
“This is nowhere near a finished product,” he said. “You are one of five destinations in world right now that are seeing this [and] all are in the testing phase.”
In addition to Ocean City, Bahlman said Puerto Rico, Savanah, Georgia, as well as Tampa Bay and St. Petersburg / Clearwater in Florida are part of the test group.
“We see five years’ worth of loyalty,” he said. “We can pinpoint … is a customer traveling for business … or is he actually traveling with his family?”
The ADARA market monitor will enable Ocean City to refine efforts to increase visitors, Bahlman said.
“How do we use all this data to look six months out [or] 90 days out to identify … our low demand periods?” he said. “What this product does is help you tactfully react to those lower demand periods via a math equation called ‘rev yield.’”
Allowing a proactive approach, Bahlman said the rev yield formula provides a comprehensive view of demand to ascertain upcoming periods with below average bookings.
“Rev yield identifies … when you should be spending on tactical advertising [to] generate bookings where it is needed the most,” he said. “It’s also going to tell you where the best customers are coming from [and] would be able to predictively tell us … where we need to advertise.”
The model is being constructed using two years’ worth of Ocean City-based travel data and factors in seasonality trends, Bahlman said.
“We believe when you start looking at your different demand periods, you probably don’t need to be advertising when you traditionally advertise,” he said.
Councilwoman Mary Knight said the analytic tool would offer a superior degree of predictability before potential tourist lulls, as compared to anecdotal reports from individual proprietors.
The forecasting also factors in other regional resort destinations, Bahlman said.
“What this does is shows a prediction of what we think is going to happen,” he said. “Ocean City might be doing very well, while your region might be hurting, and you’re stealing market share in that case.”
Bahlman said the marketing tool kit also uses heat maps to ascertain the percentage of full rooms at any given time.
“We’re still tweaking the algorithm,” he said. “The good news is, while the model may not be 100 percent, we are starting to pull out some of your high periods.”
Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Melanie Pursel said the tool could provide data about the impact of Maryland’s recent mandate that schools begin classes after Labor Day.
“We would be able to actually look at pre- and post- to determine if that had had an impact through this tool,” she said.
Councilman Matt James asked if the number of hotels sampled was sufficient to produce accurate predictions.
“This is what’s currently in our network [while] adjusting for the total inventory available,” Bahlman said. “The more people that … participate would [improve] predictions.”
Bahlman said hotels can anonymously participate in the data set at no cost and anticipates having the predictive analysis tool finalized no later than early next year.
“As we continue to develop this product, if there’s other bells whistles you need to see we’re happy to … put them in,” he said. “We’re essentially in the alpha phase and not to the beta phase yet.”