This summer tourism season in New Jersey is critical after Hurricane Sandy caused massive destruction in Jersey Shore communities. New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism Executive Director Grace Hanlon told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that she believes the state is doing well on the tourism front and is optimistic about the future.
“I think we’re doing great. We definitely got off to a little bit rough start with the weather Memorial Day weekend. But Fourth of July weekend, I think we hit it out of the park,” Hanlon said. “All the reports were coming in that there were a lot of tourists hitting the beaches for fireworks and beach days and celebrations. So, so far, so good.”
Hanlon said the Stronger than the Storm campaign has been successful, with a record number of site visits to her organization’s websites. “I think the campaign was aggressive. It had to be. And given the fact that so many people hit the shore this weekend, I think the perception that the Jersey Shore was closed or not open for business, that perception is gone and that people get it,” she said. “Stronger than the Storm did what it had to do, and that was change the perception that New Jersey was damaged and still not opened.”
In addition to the Stronger than the Storm campaign, which had a media buy that included television, billboards and radio, Hanlon said her organization talked with partners in New Orleans who went through similar issues after Hurricane Katrina. She explained that getting businesses back open was a huge part of the recovery process that continues.
“What I like about the campaign and what this administration did was from the inside, it was about really getting a pulse on businesses that are reopening and talking to the ones that aren’t open yet and finding out when they’re gonna open to see how we can help and how through the public relations events, promotion from Stronger than the Storm,” Hanlon said. “We can still continue to help get these businesses support that they need.”
While Hanlon said the reports coming in from around the state have been positive for tourism, it’s too soon to definitively say. “I don’t want to misstep and say it’s great, but I think based on Fourth of July weekend, so far so good,” she said.
Hanlon said the administration has worked to let businesses know about federal monies that are available and given them personal consultants to provide help. “It’s still very much an ongoing process at this point and we’re going to continue to help promote getting this grant money and loans out to businesses,” she said.
The first summer after Hurricane Sandy is a critical time for New Jersey’s tourism industry and Hanlon said she is constantly checking the weather. But she’s optimistic for the future.
“I’m hopeful that Mother Nature will cooperate but personally of course I’m concerned and I only want the best for the industry. And that’s when we need this good weather and the weather to cooperate,” Hanlon said. “Hopefully this weekend was a sign that good things are to come.”