Speakers at the sixth annual Jersey Shorecast at Richard Stockton College's Carnegie Center in Atlantic City will talk about what the summer holds for the gaming and tourism industries in South Jersey.
One is doing markedly better than the other. Tourism, especially in Cape May County, has been one bright spot in a South Jersey economy that saw the closing of the Atlantic Club casino hotel earlier this year and unemployment rise again.
The symposium will be moderated by Israel Posner, executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at Stockton.
"If you think about Atlantic City, within a five-minute walk you could have your toes in the ocean walking on the sand and then you're in a casino and then you're shopping in a very attractive and popular outlet mall," Posner said. "Within a short walk you have all that. That's pretty unique."
Speakers include Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian, Greater Atlantic City Chamber President Joseph Kelly and Brian Tyrrell, associate professor of hospitality and tourism management studies at Stockton.
Cape May County tourism has been growing modestly since the recession - 4 percent in 2012. Meanwhile, Atlantic City casino earnings were down 35 percent overall in 2013 from the previous year, even as third-party vendors saw sales jump by 18 percent in the resort last year.
Posner said this tells him people are still flocking to Atlantic City as it expands its tourism offerings beyond gaming.
"From 1978 through the last several years, Atlantic City was known as the gambling Mecca of the East Coast. That era is behind us. Now people are coming to the Jersey Shore for many other reasons - but mostly as a getaway," he said.
Kelly said while casinos remain the dominant force in the resort, he expects to hear more about Atlantic City's non-gaming attractions.
"For the chamber, the focus will be on the continued diversification," he said.
Kelly said conventions have been a boon to Atlantic City. He sees more potential there in coming years.
"One-third of the country's population lives within 300 miles," he said. "There's a really large pool of opportunity to get in front of convention planners. The target for us should be the off-season and mid-week market."
Cape May County Chamber of Commerce Director Vicki Clark said the season is shaping up to be a good one.
"The economy is continuing to get stronger. I think what we'll continue to hear is a great deal of optimism, especially after a cold winter," she said.
Clark said the county's tourism economy recovered well in July and August after a slow, wet June.
"This June could be soft, too, because of the harsh winter and schools maybe letting out later," she said. "But early reservations are strong. Prime properties are rented. A lot of people have been down on weekends to book a stay instead of booking online."
This optimism is abundant at stores like Making Waves in Cape May. The clothing and jewelry store has four locations in Cape May, Stone Harbor, Ocean City and Long Beach Island.
"I think business will definitely be better than last year," said District Manager Rachel Lewis, of Cape May.
Lewis said she would like to see more town-specific promotions that play up the highlights of resorts like Cape May.
"We stay open year-round. No matter what, people are getting married in Cape May. There are bus tours. The hotels are open year-round. And they do up the festivals here," she said. "So I'm always optimistic."
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If you go
The sixth annual Jersey Shorecast will be held 9 to 10:30 a.m. Friday in the Carnegie Center, 35 S. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Atlantic City. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m.