By Christie Duffy
The fifth largest industry in the state was feared all but decimated after Superstorm Sandy. But today, the lieutenant governor announced tourism is back, and has eclipsed pre-Sandy levels.
“You surpassed the $40 billion mark in overall tourism last year by 1.3 percent over 2012. That is an amazing number. That’s the first summer after Sandy. You have to let that sink in a little bit,” Lieutenant Gov. Kim Guadagno said.
Speaking to the tourism industry at their annual conference in Atlantic City Thursday, the lieutenant governor boasted about how the state’s attractions — the Miss America pageant and WrestleMania — helped generate $40.4 billion in tourism revenue, making 2013 a banner year, beating out the pre-Sandy 2012 benchmark of $40 billion.
The most growth was in North Jersey, while shore counties held their ground or saw a decrease in visitor spending.
More are finding work at the beaches and theme parks, although tourism employment is not expanding as fast as in other industries.
“It’s over 500,000 jobs in New Jersey. It’s a huge part of our GDP. We could not survive here in New Jersey without what you’re seeing here today,” Guadagno said.
Tourism is 7 percent of the entire state’s economy, a multi-billion dollar tax machine for state and local government. Tourism generates $35 million in taxes, for every mile of New Jersey coastline.
The numbers are up, but this year’s tourism success did not come without struggles.
“Coming off of the heels of Sandy, we kinda call it the sucker punch,” said Maria Maruca of Maruca’s Tomato Pies in Seaside Heights.
Maruca’s Seaside Heights boardwalk business flooded and then burned in the September fire. She says the boardwalk floor should be completed by summer, but likely not the business structures.
“From speaking with some of the property owners up there, they’re looking at putting up some trailers,” Maruca said.
In the year ahead, the Special Olympics are coming to New Jersey and the American Dream mall could finally open. It was supposed to be finished ahead of the Super Bowl, but instead, it was an eyesore.
Guadagno could only say the mall will open within the next year or so.
“We’re gonna paint the place first. One of the very first things were gonna do is paint,” she said.
More are spending at shops, restaurants and on entertainment in Atlantic City. But gaming revenue remains bleak.
The state plans to debut its new summer tourism campaign — “Going Strong” — in the coming weeks. It will be paid for with $5 million of Sandy funding.