Summer Tourism Outlook: Sunny with Chance of Boom

Record gasoline prices, hiring challenges, and soaring inflation may not sound like the best recipe for summer tourism, but New Jersey’s seasonal businesses really do have reason for optimism.

After more than two years of staying home due to the pandemic, most families will hit the road this summer regardless of the spike in inflation and gasoline prices. Over 69% of people surveyed in May said they were still taking a vacation and that gas prices and inflation would only impact how far they travel, not if they travel.

Budget-conscious families who are staying close to home know the Jersey shore, as well as the Garden State’s other recreational areas, are great options just a short trip away. Experts say New Jersey vacation destinations will see 108 million visitors this year, a 12% increase from 2021. By 2023, visitors are expected to be back to pre-pandemic levels of 116.6 million.

There is good news on the hiring front too. The severe labor shortage in 2021 that forced many seasonal businesses to reduce operating hours, has eased this year. Wages are up and extended pandemic unemployment benefits have ended, bringing more people back to work. Even more significantly, the federal logjam in processing visas for overseas student workers has lifted.

In a typical summer, about 5,000 overseas students come to New Jersey to work at boardwalk businesses, amusement parks, pools and recreation areas because there are not enough local teenagers to fill positions. But during the past two summers, there was a sharp decline in the number of J-1 visas processed, causing a shortage of student workers that impacted even New Jersey businesses that do not normally participate in the BridgeUSA program.

Why? When major tourism attractions must reduce operating hours due to staff shortages, it impacts nearby restaurants and shops, which also see fewer customers. NJBIA, the New Jersey Business Coalition, and others worked tirelessly last year to bring the visa processing issue to federal lawmakers’ attention so that it was fixed by the 2022 summer season. As a result, 4,000 student visas – about 75% of the pre-COVID number – were approved for this year.

In 2019, the year before the pandemic upended the economy, New Jersey’s tourism industry generated $46.4 billion in visitor spending and $5.1 billion in local tax revenue. After plunging almost 37% during the first pandemic summer in 2020, visitor spending began rebounding in 2021 and that upward trajectory continues this summer. In 2022, visitor spending is expected to surpass $44 billion – a number that is 90% of the pre-pandemic level, despite gas prices and inflation. That news is cause for optimism.

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