(Aug. 16, 2013) Momentum seems to be growing for the development of a long-term strategy to solve some of the resort’s unsolved questions regarding marketing, as the city’s Tourism Commission issued its second month of more comprehensive visitation statistics this week and discussed the possibility of a long-term strategy study.
As it has in the past, the city earmarked $40,000 this year, as part of its overall $5.5 million tourism promotion budget, to do market research on its advertising.
Given that data on the city’s marketing campaigns was still strong, the town spent last year’s allocation on additional advertising. MGH, the city’s contracted advertising firm, recommended forgoing another study this year given that the market is been massively diluted by spending from New Jersey.
Earlier this year, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie authorized $22 million in tourism advertising for the state, on top of the already-sizable municipal budgets of some Jersey coast resorts. Atlantic City’s own marketing coffers add another $20 to $25 million alone, MGH President Andy Malis said.
“Do we want to be spending more money to do a survey when we know we’re outspent anyway?” asked Tourism Director Donna Abbott.
Instead, Abbott suggested putting this year’s money towards a long-term marketing plan for the resort that would give the city a chance to answer some of its lingering questions about the state of its market and demographic.
Shenanigan’s owner Greg Shockley, who serves on the state’s tourism commission, was a vocal supporter of such a move. The state is doing a similar study currently, he said.
“With all the questions that we have on all the undefined areas still … we have the most blacked-out business model possible,” Shockley said. “Every year we expect to make more money than the last, but we don’t know why, and that’s unsustainable.”
A long-term study, Shockley said, would reduce the city’s reliance on anecdotal evidence to figure out how the resort is growing and changing.
“You wouldn’t be getting 30 different views on what’s going on, you would be getting one vision and one plan,” Shockley said.
“I’ve never seen a season with such a disparity about how things are,” agreed Carousel Hotel partner Michael James.
City Manager David Recor was also supportive of a long-term tourism plan, especially in light of city leaders’ frequently heated debates over what the numbers mean.
“The ‘chest-thumping’ we need, so to speak, is this kind of approach,” Recor said in reference to Councilman Brent Ashley’s assertion that Mayor Rick Meehan had said he “wasn’t going to thump his chest” in response to the city’s crime and its potential impact on tourism.
The city has often used demoflush numbers, which estimate population based on wastewater flow, and room tax returns as a measure of visitation. But these numbers have been called into question and are easy to manipulate. Demoflush is subject to changes in plumbing efficiency and recirculation at the city’s water treatment plant and room tax may be a reflection of changes in room rates or the number of condo owners registering their units.
“Some people take it and run in their direction, and other people run the other direction,” Shockley said. “We need to not be getting four or five versions of what’s happening.”
Although he has maintained that tourism in the resort is more vibrant than other people, like Ashley, have painted it, Meehan said he was interested in revisiting the city’s reliance on weekend events.
“We looked to events to make sure we had the visitors after 2008 and I think that worked well,” Meehan said. “Now we’re in a place where we have to modify that plan.”
For the last two months, Abbott has been issuing additional metrics in a monthly report. For June, the city’s public works indicators other than demoflush – trash collection and bus ridership – are tracking the same, with six percent decreases in both.
The web marketing effort continues to boom, with 11.2 percent more click-throughs on the city Web site over last June. Facebook fans and Twitter followers are up 28.5 percent and 38.1 percent, respectively.
Requests for the city’s hard-copy visitors guide are also up 29.5 percent. The top three area codes for mailing the guides in June were Bethel Park, Pa., Cumberland and Dundalk. But how many of those click-throughs and requests for material translate into visitors is one of the things a study would aim to determine.
In addition, Malis said some in the community have questioned whether the city should be using broadcast advertising as heavily as it is to market to a wide audience it may not want.
“We’re advertising on generally wholesome or content-neutral programs,” Malis said. “I think we’re in the best place we can be with that.”