The Legislature sent to Gov. Phil Murphy a measure that would permit the use of $25 million in federal relief funds to help the state’s travel and tourism industries recover from the pandemic next summer.
Under Assembly Bill 5689, the state would set aside $5 million to be used by a state-recognized destination marketing organization that would promote all regions of the state. Another $20 million would be used by the state’s Division of Travel and Tourism to assist the “economic recovery of the travel and tourism industry” from the pandemic, in unspecific ways.
The measure was approved by a 71-1 vote with two abstentions on June 24, and the state Senate by a 39-0 vote on Dec. 20 during a day-long voting session before lawmakers were set to break for Christmas.
The promotion campaign would likely mirror the 2013 “Stronger than the Storm” campaign meant to convince travelers and tourists that the Jersey Shore was open for business following the devastation of Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
That effort also totaled $25 million, paid for by federal relief funds. But then-Gov. Chris Christie’s appearance in the ads – especially given that it was an election year for him – drew criticism, as did the nature and cost of the contract with public relations firm MWW.
“Travel and tourism is one of the largest employment sectors and highest revenue-generating industries in New Jersey,” said one of the primary sponsors, Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald, D-6th District, in a November statement. “It is paramount that we promote businesses and destinations in our state that have been so negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Figures from this past May show visitation declined 27% from 2019 and 2020, from 116 million tourists to 86.4 million tourists. Spending fell 37%, from $46.4 billion in 2019 to $29.4 billion in 2020, marking the end of a decade of growth in the state’s tourism sector following the Great Recession.
“We all know how critical the tourism industry is to the state,” Chrissy Buteas, chief government affairs officer at the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, told lawmakers in November. “Not just the shore, the entire New Jersey tourism industry, restaurants and also not leaving out our hotels and others. We have a vast tourism industry in the state.”
The bill also mandates the promotion of the state’s food and beverage establishments, which had to operate at reduced capacity for over a year, including more than three months without any sit-down dining, nearly half a year without indoor dining, and over a year with no bar-side seating.
Business owners and others connected to the tourism and travel sectors said they believed that while this past summer’s season would be better than 2020, they did not expect it to exceed 2019 levels, widely regarded as a record-breaking season.
According to a report released by the Division of Travel and Tourism earlier in December, summer tourism did, in fact, rebound this year. Counties along the Shore fared better than those that depend on indoor activities, the study found. Bed taxes collected by the state in Atlantic, Cape May, Monmouth and Ocean counties are projected to hit $19.2 million in 2021 – an increase of 71% and 22% over 2020 and 2019, respectively. Summer beach tag sales also surpassed 2019 levels. Cape May’s 2021 revenue was 35% up from 2019, while Ocean City posted a 4.5% increase.