Tourism visitation plunged 27% between 2019 and 2020 thanks to the pandemic, while spending in the local economy by tourists dropped 37%, according to a report released May 6 by the New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism.
There were 86.4 million visitors to New Jersey in 2020, compared to a “record-breaking” 116 million tourists in 2019, according to the report compiled by the Pennsylvania-based Tourism Economics and released by the NJTT.
And while tourists spent $46.4 billion in the state in 2019, that dropped to $29.4 billion in 2020, breaking a decade of growth that began in 2009 following the Great Recession.
Spending in every tourism sector fell according to the report: lodging, such as hotels and AirBnB; food and beverage; retail; recreation; and ground and air transportation.
Tourists spent $12.4 billion on hotel and rental stays in 2019 for example, compared to $7.7 billion last year. They spent $8.3 billion on food and beverage businesses in 2020, compared to $12.3 billion in 2019.
Across those sectors, the tourism piece of the state economy makes up to 237,000 direct and indirect jobs, the report noted.
“[O]ur coastal communities and counties with open spaces mitigated economic losses far better than those where social distancing was not as feasible,” Jeffrey Vasser, who heads the NJTT, said in a May 6 statement.
Local businesses up and down the Jersey Shore are expecting soaring demand this summer season, thanks to loosening restrictions, steadily increasing COVID-19 vaccination efforts, a waning of the virus, and ability amid warmer weather to conduct more business outside where public health experts say the risk of viral transmission is much lower.
The same goes for casino, entertainment and event operators at Atlantic City, which Vasser estimated make up 20% of summer tourism to the state.
Vasser projected that travel to the New Jersey area will be largely fueled by the “short-term drive market,” or those comfortable using a car with friends or family “they’ve been with all winter, versus an airplane.” Think New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., the Delmarva Peninsula and parts of New England. So outreach has been focused heavily on those areas.
And outdoor events like the New Jersey Lottery Festival of Ballooning at Solberg Airport in Readington Township, and the New Jersey State Fair in Sussex County, are gearing up for an explosion of summer interest.
Gov. Phil Murphy announced on May 3 that the state is rolling back swathes of COVID-19 business restrictions put in place more than a year ago to halt the spread of the virus. They go into effect starting May 7 through May 19, and affect every single business in the state.
Capacity restrictions will be loosened for indoor and outdoor gatherings, and at indoor restaurants, retail, gyms, salons, and other indoor establishments. Murphy has called the roll backs the “most aggressive steps taken to reopen to date,” and has alluded to more reopenings if the COVID-19 pandemic is further controlled and if vaccination efforts continue to increase.