By Lauren Wanko
The countdown is on — 66 days until Memorial Day, marking the start of the summer season. But this year, the tourism industry is facing a new set of challenges since Superstorm Sandy ravaged the coastline.
“For Atlantic City, it’s been the media misperceptions that were put out there right after the storm and we are still feeling the effects of that. So we’re getting the message out there that Atlantic City was unharmed,” said Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority Vice President of Marketing Larry Sieg.
Atlantic City tourism leaders say the national media gave the impression the entire boardwalk was destroyed by the storm when only a small section was destroyed. And farther south, Cape May is battling its own misperceptions post-Sandy. The seaside community didn’t suffer any major damage either.
“Our Christmas holiday season, specifically in the town of Cape May, is one of our busiest times of the year and business was soft this past year, so we had a direct impact from that,” said Cape May County Chamber of Commerce President and NJ Travel Industry Association Vice President Vicki Clark.
But what are the expectations for the summer tourism season in shore towns that were directly impacted by the storm?
“I do expect that it’s going to be a good summer season. We’ve been on a trend like that for several years now post recession,” said Richard Stockton College Associate Professor of Hospitality and Tourism Management Brian Tyrrell.
Gov. Chris Christie announced Wednesday that New Jersey set a new record in 2012, generating nearly $40 billion in total tourism demand.
“It happened in September, so we were on pace to break a record with a hotel tax, to break a record with the travel and tourism industry through October really right up until the storm hit,” Tyrrell said. “That it hit during a low point, I think that was somewhat of a benefit for the industry, for the businesses involved. It gives them a chance to kind of recover before the season starts.”
And as those shore businesses are recovering, Jim Kirkos of the Meadowlands Liberty Convention and Visitors Bureau says planning is in full swing for the 2014 Super Bowl. But shore towns aren’t alone in fighting misconceptions about New Jersey.
“The negative perception that is out there is something that we’re all dealing with right now. We’ve talked with Louisiana and Florida and the panhandle and places that have suffered damage in the past and they’re all telling us to do everything we can to change that perception,” Kirkos said.
That’s the mission for Atlantic City’s famous Steel Pier.
“Everybody thinks that the Steel Pier was the roller coaster that was in the ocean, was the Ferris wheel that was in the ocean,” said Sharon Franz, Steel Pier sales and marketing director. “We actually had minimal damage, which we were very surprised.”
Sandy has left behind challenges industry leaders couldn’t predict, but like the homeowners along the shore, determined to rebuild, New Jersey’s tourism leaders say they’re determined to ensure this summer season is a successful one throughout the entire state.