Fun, family, friendly, nostalgia, crowded, busy and expensive were just a few of the words a cross-section of resort residents and visitors recently used to describe Ocean City.
The assessments — and others regarding offerings, attractions and value — came from the first results of a recently performed perception and development study.
“The report is extremely data driven and essential [to] a foundation to refresh or develop our brand moving forward,” said Tom Perlozzo, Ocean City’s director of tourism and business development, in an email of the study that research firm OpinionsWorks performed at the tail end of the summer.
“The data analyzed visitors, nonvisitors, residents, stakeholders, etc.,” Perlozzo continued. “We did see very interesting information among the various sectors.”
He said officials plan to dive deeper into each area to find differences in things like market competitiveness and age.
“Basically, (there’s) more to follow,” he said.
Perlozzo presented the initial study results to members of the tourism committee on Oct. 14. The mayor and members of the Ocean City Council also reviewed the data at a work a session earlier this week.
Perlozzo said he plans to present the more detailed information, including staff interpretations, to tourism committee members at their next meeting. From there, he said staff members will use the data to market the resort more effectively.
“The purpose of the perception study was to see what our visitors, our nonvisitors, our stakeholders [say] about certain items in town that we could strategically put together with an ad agency our messaging, our media plan and how it relates to, on a much more surgical level, market segmentation,” he explained.
Since the data is still “top line,” he did not provide specific information for the branding project’s next move.
Perlozzo also said he did not know exactly how much the study cost, but that it was included in carryover funds in the city’s budget that were allocated for research in fiscal 2021. The lump sum was $70,000 or $80,000, he said, and the cost of the OpinionWorks study was a chunk of that.
According to the report, which OpinionWorks Owner Steve Raab prepared, the study was conducted to provide a foundation for Ocean City to refresh its brand, open new market opportunities, attract new subgroups within its target audience, and build a more robust, year-round visitor base.
Raab evaluated how people perceive Ocean City, looked into the factors that drive people to the resort, and examined the current and prospective visitors during the summer and shoulder seasons.
The evaluation began in August with planning and field data collection, and lasted through September. The study is now in the analysis and sharing phase and about 90 percent complete.
The initial results showed that the resort fared well in overall experience, with 58 percent of those polled describing excellent, and 33 percent describing good, experiences. Less than 1 percent reported very poor experiences, while 2 percent of experiences were poor, and 7 percent were fair.
Those interviewed said they primarily spent time on the beach, Boardwalk and shopping, with rides, amusements, arcades and mini golf also listed as frequent activities.
The resort’s offering for nightlife and entertainment did not fare so well, and the researchers recommended offering more “fun and interesting things to do.”
“Our general take is that marketing in a broad sense for all segments really isn’t targeting the timing and needs of Ocean City,” Perlozzo said of those results. “[We need] to educate and focus on content and messaging more efficiently and engage audiences differently as in the past.”
Value for the money it costs to stay and spend time in Ocean City was also not rated highly in the study, which Perlozzo said was not a surprise.
“Value is loosely used and the opportunity is in the messaging, communication and engagement moving forward,” he said. “We are a resort for all people regardless of income. There’s something for everyone. We had a terrific summer and hope this continues through the upcoming years by stretching our season and providing more to do not only in the county but including the assets of Maryland’s Coast (Worcester County).”
The results also showed that the data was derived primarily from people who identified as white or caucasian. A total of 73 percent of those surveyed from the general public, 84 percent who visited in the last year, and 85 percent who have visited multiple times fell into that race category.
Just 13 percent of interviewees from the general public, 4 percent of people who have visited in the last year, and 3 percent who have visited multiple times identified as African American or Black. And only 9 percent of those interviewed from the general public, 7 percent who have visited in the last year, and 6 percent who visited multiple times identified as Hispanic or Latino. The remainder either identified as something else or did not answer.
Perlozzo said officials will take into account the diversity of those who visit the resort and “do the right thing moving forward” when marketing to specific sectors.
“Tourism is and will always be diverse,” he said. “Our creative will reflect this image. We do understand our audience and needs to expand its approach. Again this is a larger picture of audience segmentation and targeting efforts within the future plans.”
The data also showed the income levels of both people that visited Ocean City and members of the general public in a chart. It included ranges from less than $50,000 to more than $250,000, with 19 to 20 percent of interviewees preferring not to say. All in all, the data showed that higher incomes individuals had more visits.
OpinionWoks research will also be used to help develop a strategic mission, complete with measurable and actionable objectives, which has been in the works since June.