BUSINESS & ECONOMY

Jersey Tourism Industry Battles Images of Hurricane Damage

After superstorm Sandy hit, the devastation along the Jersey shore left many wondering what would it do to one of the state’s most important industries. To discuss the impact on the state’s tourism industry, NJ Today Mike Schneider spoke with Joseph Simonetta, Executive Director of the NJ Travel Industry Association.

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There’s just no way to minimize the damage to the state’s 127 miles of beaches according to Simonetta, who refers to those beaches as the jewel of the New Jersey tourism industry. He adds that the industry is very supportive of the Christie administration’s ability to responding to the needs of the number three industry in the state, one that generates over $38 billion in revenue and employs over 500,000 people.

Whether those revenue figures and employment numbers remain largely intact is a major question mark. Simonetta refuses to sugarcoat the effect that Sandy will have when the tourism season kicks in high gear next summer. The x factor will be the tourists themselves, he says, and that means messaging is critical.

“If we don’t get the message out there that we have not been destroyed and that we will be open for business … I’m afraid people who are already making cancellations are going to look elsewhere,” he said.

Simonetta says the national media’s continuous play of images of coastal damage, especially the one of the Seaside Heights roller coaster in the ocean, is hurting the industry. Atlantic City resumed its “DO AC” campaign last month to counter the misconception that the city’s famed boardwalk was badly damaged by the hurricane. But Simonetta says more is needed to combat this image problem.

“Even this morning when they were talking about President Obama requesting disaster relief aid, they showed a picture of all the boats and all the devastation that happened 24 hours after the storm,” he said. “So we have to tell that story and we can’t do it with tourism dollars that are appropriated right now.”

To get the message out that the Jersey Shore will be open for business, Simonetta says a supplemental appropriations bill for $30 million will be introduced Monday or after the holidays.

“I would hope that it pass, I would hope people would understand, just like Katrina, just like the BP oil spill, that if it wasn’t for the massive media campaign that was put on by the industry to bring people back to that tourist mecca, it would have collapsed.”