ATLANTIC CITY - From marketing on mobile devices to building brands with strong emotional ties, New Jersey's tourism and business leaders are picking up strategies this week they may use to grow the state's third-largest industry.

The New Jersey Conference on Tourism opened on Wednesday at the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City and concludes today.

The New Jersey Travel Industry Association's event is expected to bring about 300 tourism and business leaders together to discuss ways to build and promote the industry while highlighting its importance in the economy, said Sharon Franz, association president and marketing director for the Steel Pier in Atlantic City.

"It's everything from shopping to landscapers. It all just trickles down," Franz said. "Without the tourism industry, your CVS wouldn't be open 24 hours in the summertime. I use that as an example."

An important gauge of tourism will be released at the conference at 8:15 a.m. today, when state Department of Travel & Tourism Executive Director Grace Hanlon updates tourism spending and revenues for 2013.

At last year's conference, Gov. Chris Christie said the industry reached nearly $40 billion in 2012, including visitor spending, capital investments and government support of tourism. That was up about 3 percent from the prior year.

Marilou Halvorsen, president of the New Jersey Restaurant Association, said investing in tourism is vital to its growth.

"The focus not just of today but of this conference is to not just educate the people in this industry about what it is we do, but also for public awareness and for our government officials that tourism is such a large revenue generator for the state of New Jersey," she said. "It's essential they keep reinvesting and increase tourism funding."

Other sessions scheduled for today include: Marketing diversity and travel; connecting with customers - particularly women and mothers - to create brands with emotional connections; and tourism security and safety.

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno is scheduled to speak at 9:30 a.m. today as well.

Meanwhile, a new study on visitors to New Jersey may help tourism marketing organizations understand the habits and lifestyles of their visitors a little better.

The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey's Stockton Polling Institute surveyed more than 1,000 visitors who traveled more than 50 miles from out of state or within the state.

Conducted for the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism, the survey breaks down where those visitors went in New Jersey.

About 18 percent went to Atlantic County; 15 percent to Cape May County; and 12 percent to Ocean County, according to the survey.

Visitors to some major municipalities in the area such as Atlantic City and Cape May helped drive visitors to those counties, said Brian Tyrrell, a Stockton associate professor of tourism and hospitality management involved in the survey.

"We can drill down a little deeper. We were excited to be able to provide the industry information on where visitors are going, all the way down to the municipal level," he said.

Counties not along the Jersey Shore were responsible for slightly less than half of those visits, about 48 percent.

Tyrrell said destination marketing organizations throughout New Jersey could use findings from the study to bolster their case for funding from state, public and private sources while gaining members.

The survey also detailed spending patterns of visitors based on their ages, wealth, and those with young children.

The largest segment of New Jersey visitors (about 28 percent) were "affluent matures" - at least 55 years old with household incomes above $75,000 and no children younger than 18. They spent $425 a day on food, lodging, entertainment, shopping and transportation.

Other groups spent more. High-earning families with younger children spent $499 per day.

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Tourism Conference Today

The New Jersey Conference on Tourism continues today at the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City with Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno is scheduled to speak at 9:30 a.m.

At 8:15 a.m., state Department of Travel & Tourism Executive Director Grace Hanlon will present information on tourism spending and revenues for 2013.

While open to the public, the conference costs $225 to register and attend today.

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