Superstorm Sandy may have made a disaster zone out of the Jersey Shore, but that didn’t stop the Garden State from setting a new tourism record in 2012.
The Christie administration announced Wednesday that New Jersey generated nearly $40 billion in total tourism demand last year. Visitor spending, capital investment and general government support of tourism surpassed the previous record of $39.5 billion reached in 2007, while representing a 2.6 percent increase over 2011. The state also welcomed 82.5 million visitors, an increase of nearly 5 percent over the previous year.
“While these results are positive and encouraging, we are still facing the challenges of the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy,” Gov. Christie Christie noted. “We must continue to look to the future and continue the steady progress of rebuilding.”
Last week, the governor announced the Recovery Action Plan, which includes $500 million in funding for several small business loan programs, as well as a $25 million package for aggressive marketing efforts to “let potential visitors know that the Jersey Shore will be open for business this summer.”
According to a report released Wednesday by the Department of State, New Jersey’s travel and tourism industry directly supported 318,560 jobs last year, a 2 percent increase over 2011. When combined with indirect and induced jobs, the report claimed travel and tourism exceeded 500,000 positions -- or 10 percent of all employment in the state. Moreover, tourism accounted for 7 percent of the state’s economy, making it the third largest industry after pharmaceuticals and chemicals.
Hotel room demand also grew last year by 5.8 percent, while the average daily rate increased by 3.2 percent, according to a separate report from Smith Travel Research.
But whether or not New Jersey can count on similar numbers in 2013 depends largely on visitors’ comfort in returning to the battered Shore this summer.
Christie’s proposed Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Action plan, unveiled last week, outlines how the state will use more than $1.8 billion in federal funding to rebuild areas along the coast. The plan includes $500 million in funding for small business grants of up to $50,000 for eligible businesses, many of which cater to tourists. Neighborhood and community revitalization programs, meanwhile, will fund up to $10 million worth of rebuilding to make commercial areas attractive for locals and visitors alike.
A $25 million marketing campaign will be the Jersey Shore’s biggest bid to lure people back. The campaign will help counteract images of a storm-battered coast and show that most of the beaches along the Jersey Shore’s 127-mile coastline are indeed “open for business.”
“South of Long Beach Island, things are pretty much normal at the Jersey Shore, and folks need to know that,” Christie told a tourism conference in Atlantic City this week, according to the AP. “These communities are ready to go. They have rental communities and their businesses are ready to go.”
Christie said parts of Ocean and Monmouth counties on the northern Shore were “more problematic,” though boardwalk repairs should be completed by Memorial Day, the typical start of the season.
The top federal recovery official told a Senate committee Wednesday that whether or not the Jersey Shore is truly “open for business” this summer will be a “critical measure” of the federal government’s success. Christie, for his part, is confident it will.
"I've always said the Jersey Shore will come back, but it will be different," he said at the tourism conference. "There are places that will look and feel different. There's no way around that."