The 2023 summer season looks bright for the Jersey Shore, despite some continuing challenges presented by inflation, gas prices and ongoing labor shortages. That’s according to a panel of local experts who spoke at the 15th annual Jersey Shorecast yesterday, sponsored by the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism (LIGHT) at the Stockton University School of Business.
The discussion was held at the Stockton University Atlantic City John F. Scarpa Academic Center and streamed online.
“I think that last year was a banner year overall,” said Oliver Cooke, associate professor of Economics at Stockton and editor of the South Jersey Economic Review. “I think this was, in part, a continuation of some kind of COVID rebound effect. There’s been a lot of fiscal stimulus provided over the last couple of years. I think last summer was very, very robust for everyone.”
At the beginning of the discussion, LIGHT Faculty Director Jane Bokunewicz presented some numbers to support that statement — including a dramatic increase in total convention delegate spending and the full-year luxury tax in Atlantic City when comparing 2021 to 2022.
In 2021, total delegate spending for June, July and August totaled just short of $35 million, while in 2022 that number was just short of $50 million. Revenue from the luxury tax in Atlantic City went from $35.4 million in 2021 to $42.7 million in 2022. That also exceeded the $40.9 million in pre-COVID 2019.
However, Bokunewicz said not all the numbers are positive. The number of summer passengers through the Atlantic City Expressway Pleasantville toll from 2021 to 2022 dropped slightly (5,625,893 in 2021 to 5,315,419 in 2022).
“That was a sign that perhaps gas prices had some impact on summer visitations,” she said.
And while casino employment for July in 2022 (23,750) was up over 2021 (22,672), the total lagged behind the pre-COVID number of 29,141 — reflecting that the industry is still experiencing some labor shortages.
“Hotel operators reported that the housekeeping shortage was so severe that sometimes they couldn’t even fill the hotel because they couldn’t clean the rooms,” she said.
Following is a recap of the questions and some of the answers from the panel:
Inflation and higher gas prices were a concern in 2022. Do you feel they will have an impact on 2023 summer tourism?
Michael Brennan (chef at Cardinal, a contemporary American restaurant that opened recently in Atlantic City’s Orange Loop District): We get a large portion of our produce brought in from out-of-state lines, so every cent, every dollar that gets tacked on to bringing a product in-house to either a restaurant or a casino adds to the end price. So, what I think we’re looking at now is the prices are settling as far as gas, but this is going to be the norm. We see these incremental (price) increases. We’re going to continue to see that.
Ben Rose (director of marketing and public relations for the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement District and the Wildwood Convention Center): That’s one of our concerns also. Right now. The perception is the southern Jersey Shore is an affordable vacation destination. And looking at the inflationary pressures right now of rising prices on food, rising prices on a hotel. We may get to a point where that perception is no longer valid. Right now, prices are up, and that is a detriment to a family vacation.
Labor shortages were a concern in 2022. Do you feel that will have an impact on 2023 summer tourism?
James Marota (director of sales – Atlantic City region, Caesars Entertainment and a 1993 graduate of Stockton): Not just here. I think nationwide hospitality, industry, labor has shortages. I think it’s going to be an ongoing problem. Not just a 2023 problem. We’re doing some things around the properties to help combat that. We’ve added self-kiosk check-ins, online check-in. You can check into your hotel room on your phone. Housekeeping is still an issue. I think we’re in a better place, labor-wise, but it’s an ongoing problem.
Rose: The higher labor costs and the lack of the J-1 Visa students is a major concern. We’re still trying to overcome those issues. But the industry is resilient, and they’re innovative, and they’ve figured a way to get around some of those issues, and they’ll continue to work harder to provide the services to the visitor. But labor is still an issue.
Do you anticipate anything else impacting performance this summer? What will the impact be?
Marota: With only having 90 days of the summer, the weather pays a big factor into it.
Rose: We always say the difference between a good season and a great season is the weather, and you can never predict that. But I think we’ve been through enough that we know how to react to major pressures that come on board. So, I think we’re in a good position. Let’s hope for great weather.
Looking into the future, are there new challenges/new opportunities to consider in 2023?
Rose: We’ve gone further out in our marketing efforts than ever before because we understand that people are concerned about flying. So, we’ve expanded our marketing all the way into Ohio, of course, up into Canada, because Canada is open right now all the way down into southern Virginia and up to southern New England. So that market has expanded from the traditional tri-state area. New people are looking at us. They’re looking at the Jersey Shore for vacation opportunities, and we just have to convert those to visitors.
Marota: From my perspective with conventions, we’re trying to leverage some of our relationships with our Las Vegas properties to bring new customers into the area. I think future challenges we’re going to have — for the city — is gaming in New York City. That’s a major one that should have us concerned a little bit. We need to be proactive.
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