Beach towns have always jockeyed for their share of summer tourism dollars, but Hurricane Sandy is prompting many to step up their game.
Take, for example, the strategies of two Seas:
Sea Isle City burst out of the gate two months ago with a billboard at New York City’s Lincoln Tunnel, proclaiming “We’re ready.” More recently, the resort took a page from Atlantic City’s playbook (Do AC) by stamping its slogan on 6,000 car magnets.
Seaside Heights, whose waterlogged Jet Star roller coaster has become a symbol of destruction, is playing the long game. A steady stream of news coverage about its rebuilding process reached critical mass on Monday, when Fox News’ Shepard Smith came to town for two one-hour live broadcasts.
“We’ve given overwhelmingly easy access for the stations that want to come in,” said Michael Graichen, a spokesman and lifelong resident of the Ocean County borough. “As long as the stories are positive, we gave them the access they needed.”
While southern New Jersey beaches have aggressively courted beachgoers who would normally visit Long Island and North Jersey, northern beaches such as Seaside Heights are working just as hard to get their message out.
“Everyone’s fighting to the last dollar,” Graichen said.
Sea Isle Mayor Len Desiderio said the city’s first venture — which includes a cable TV spot — into North Jersey has been a “huge success,” at least according to early reports on summer rental bookings.
“Six million people a month came out of the tunnel and saw that billboard,” he gushed.
The billboard, whose $15,000 per month cost was paid for by the Sea Isle City Chamber of Commerce and Revitalization, came down after two months. Next, the city plans to move the advertisement to its more traditional market, the Philadelphia metro area.
But Desiderio stressed he doesn’t consider his city to be in competition with the northern beaches.
“We want those who are looking for another option, or may not be able to go to those beaches, to stay in New Jersey,” he said. “We’d much rather them stay in the state than go to Delaware, Maryland or Virginia.”
And more resorts are getting involved as the lucrative summer season approaches. They’re using a combination of local funding, donated ad space and grants from the state and other sources.
This year, the state Division of Travel and Tourism awarded $553,000 in cooperative marketing grants to 42 organizations, including $280,173 to local groups. That’s down slightly from last year’s $574,173, but a significant increase from 2012, when 35 groups received $400,000.
One of the recipients of that largesse is Avalon’s 7 Mile Business Community Association, a homegrown marketing coalition of about 115 businesses.
Jacquie Ewing, the group’s president, said a lot of the organization’s print materials, including those stored at her home decor business, Armadillo, were lost in the storm. Like many businesses on the barrier island, Armadillo had about 2 feet of water for three separate high tides during the storm.
“You don’t realize what you lost until you go to look for it and realize, ‘Oh yeah, Sandy,’ ” she said.
However, Ewing said, most businesses in the tight-knit community with 1,300 residents have reopened or will be ready for the summer.
The group is now considering its options, including a possible TV ad, for attracting the New York metro market. But there are concerns about not appearing to profit from other resorts’ pain, she said.
“How do we remain sensitive to what’s going on north of us and get our message out?” she asked. “That’s a balancing act.”
Brigantine, meanwhile, is considering following Sea Isle City’s lead. Emmett Turner, president of the city’s Chamber of Commerce and owner of the Brigantine Times, said the chamber is discussing a plan to book billboards at the Lincoln Tunnel and on the White Horse Pike.
Cost cited for the Lincoln Tunnel billboard are “astronomical,” Turner said, but the organization is hoping for some state aid.
In the aftermath of Sandy, the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority benefited from donated ad space in trade magazines such as Meetings And Conventions and Convene, said its president, Jeff Vasser. The ads helped broadcast the message that the city was intact and open for business
“During the storm and a couple weeks afterward, we lost business as folks canceled,” he said. “At this point, we’ve not seen any more cancellations.”
Now, Vasser said, the focus is on dispelling lingering misinformation and drawing new business to town. The Atlantic City Alliance also coordinated a $1 million incentive program with the ACCVA in December to attract new convention groups to the city. Unlike other cities and tourism groups, the ACCVA has not significantly changed the demographics of its marketing.
“I can’t say we’re spending too much more on advertising,” he said. “It’s more about getting in front of media through the events that we do.”
Graichen is confident that Seaside Height’s boardwalk will be restored by Memorial Day, even if the business he has run for 43 years — Lucky’s Arcade and Pizza — isn’t there for it. Operating under a long-term lease, he didn’t have insurance on the boardwalk business.
“The question now is: Am I too old to start over?” he said. “Financially, it will be a big hit.”
But Graichen, 70, said he’s seeing more businesses open around him each week. As for the rivalry between Jersey’s shore towns, he said it’s the same as it ever was.
“We’ve always been in competition, always,” he said.
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