As soon as it became clear that Hurricane Irene had spared Ocean County’s shore towns from major damage, county officials went to work getting the word out that the vacation hot spot would be up and running for Labor Day weekend.
The county even produced a television commercial to air in Pennsylvania.
“We produced it in-house, the county college (Ocean County College) helped us do it,” said Barbara Steele, director of public information and tourism for the county. “We had a buy on almost every major family cable television station.”
It’s too soon to know whether the ads or other efforts were responsible, but Steele said one way or another, the message got out.
“I was over in Seaside Heights, and I saw a lot of plates from Pennsylvania,” she said.
Hurricane Irene struck at an inopportune time for the tourism industry. Fears of storm-related damage were replaced by fears that publicity over the storm would scare off tourists.
Now that both the storm and the holiday weekend are in the past, shore-region tourism officials say Labor Day appears to have been a success.
“We have gotten excellent reports,” said Diane Wieland, director of the Cape May County Department of Tourism. “We had great crowds. It was kind of slow during the week after the hurricane, but by Thursday, we saw the cars returning.”
Wieland said her agency and local tourism-oriented businesses began getting phone calls soon after the storm from would-be tourists wanting to know how the county fared in the storm. Her agency reached out to media in New Jersey and the Philadelphia region, and also took to its Facebook and Twitter pages to reassure travelers that the county was open for business.
Ironically, Steele said while the initial concern was damage to shore communities, the storm ended up leaving more damage inland, prompting concerns that some might cancel their vacation plans to deal with flooding or damage at home.
A solid Labor Day weekend won’t completely erase Irene’s economic damage, however. Wieland said August is the most important month of the year for the region’s tourism industry, and losing the weekend before Labor Day due to mandatory evacuations was a major blow.
Still, Wieland said, tourism-focused businesses should get a bit of a boost in the coming days as second homeowners — many of whom rent out their homes during the summer — return to the Shore to take in the last few weekends of summer weather.
“You can rely on that,” she said. “We’re still going to see people here.”
Steele said many local nonprofits hold their festivals in September, since the calendar and the streets are too crowded to hold them in the height of the tourism season.
“September is the best time to come down to the shore,” Steele said. “The water’s the warmest, there’s less traffic to get down here and less wait when you go to a restaurant.”