The Garden State achieved record-breaking tourism visitations in 2019, welcoming more than 116 million visitors, an increase of 4.9% over 2018, according to the latest report from the New Jersey Division of Travel & Tourism. Total spending by visitors to the state reached $46.4 billion, a 3.8% increase, and generated over $5.1 billion in state and local taxes throughout 2019.
The upsurge in tourism directly supported the formation of 9,000 new jobs in the state, revealing the largest boom in the past 10 years. The rise in spending also marks the tenth consecutive year of tourism growth for the Garden State.
But what is the outlook for tourism in 2020 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, especially along the Jersey shore this summer season?
Panelists at this week’s 12th annual Jersey Shorecast, sponsored by the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute for Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism (LIGHT) at Stockton University, which was held as a webinar to accommodate COVID-19 guidelines, revealed that the outlook for the summer will depend on how quickly businesses can open, what guidelines and restrictions are in place when they do, and how well the hospitality and tourism industry not only responds to new guidelines, but markets the message in a way that encourages visitors to return.
“The message has always been clean and safe,” said Larry Sieg, director of communications and marketing for the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority. “Now we will have to add healthy … that we can provide a healthy environment.”
Panelists noted that the forecast for the season will depend a lot on when the season will begin.
Michael Busler, professor of business studies-finance, Stockton University, said businesses need to open by May 15, noting they had already lost early spring and Easter weekend business. “I’m especially concerned about small businesses (that rely on the summer),” he said.
All panelists said 2019 had been an excellent season, and 2020 was on track to be as good, if not better, until the coronavirus crisis. They noted that even when businesses do open, social distancing guidelines are likely to be in effect that could increase costs and reduce profits, but are crucial to gain public confidence.
“We have to look for opportunities,” said Michael Chait, president, Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, noting the restaurants that have developed or expanded takeout service.
Busler noted that the increase in the minimum wage may also have an impact on businesses’ ability to hire.
Speakers also noted that the use of technology has expanded rapidly and is likely to remain in effect or grow in some areas.
Michael Tidwell, director of sales and marketing, Seaview a Dolce Hotel, said his team is maintaining contact with guests, and the industry will have to be flexible to adapt to guests’ concerns and any future developments in the pandemic.
The proximity of the Jersey shore to so many people is an asset that should be developed, speakers said.
“I think we will benefit from pent-up demand and the opportunity for day trips,” said Donna Albano, associate professor of hospitality and tourism management studies, Stockton University. “We have to capitalize on the drive-in market.”
Chait said the loss of luxury tax revenue will affect the ability to host large events, but that there is now an opportunity to develop and recruit smaller, regional events using the larger spaces like the Atlantic City Convention Center to provide effective distancing.
Lori Pepenella, CEO at Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce, and Chait said they have already been working with their members and small businesses to stay on top of guidelines and make sure they are prepared and can move quickly once they can open.
“We are all working behind the scenes to open strong,” Pepenella said.
Key findings from the 2019 Economic Impact of Tourism Report also found that:
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