With Hurricane Sandy almost a distant memory and new attractions opening up in time for the holiday, South Jersey shore businesses are expecting a busy tourism season as it officially opens Memorial Day weekend.
“We’re all ready,” said Brian Broadley, president of the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce. “The stores are back open, the Boardwalk is all cleaned up and we’re ready to go.”
Broadley said motel owners have told him bookings for lodging are ahead of this time last year.
“We’re really expecting a big weekend for Memorial Day,” he said. “That throws the switch on summer.”
In Atlantic City, the opening of Margaritaville and other casino-related additions may have captured the spotlight, but new rides at Steel Pier, the debut of “Boardwalk Beat,” a new light and sound show at Boardwalk Hall, and the re-opening of public art spaces during the Memorial Day weekend also are expected to draw interest.
“This really is the summer of openings,” said Jeff Guaracino, chief strategy and communications officer for the casino-backed marketing firm Atlantic City Alliance. “It’s a lot of new stuff for a lot of different interests.”
The alliance invited news media from across the country and particularly from Philadelphia, New York and Washington, D.C., to visit the resort as part of an effort to showcase the Boardwalk and Tourism District to counter perceptions about Sandy damage.
One of the most popular Boardwalk destinations, Steel Pier, has added seven new rides this summer, with most expected to be operational Memorial Day Weekend, owner Anthony Catanoso said. Sandy may have helped Steel Pier, because amusement attractions north of the area, such as in Seaside Heights, haven’t recovered from the storm, he said.
“I think we are going to be picking up some people for alternative attractions,” Catanoso said. “We’re looking for a big, big summer.”
In Wildwood, attractions such as a permanent wave ride, Flow House, should be in place at Splash Zone Water Park, and a new art installation and restaurant at Adventure Pier is expected to be completed and ready for business.
Memorial Day weekend also marks the start of the camping season across the region.
Bookings have been sold out for the past month or so at Winding River Campground in Hamilton Township and will grow busier as school ends for summer recess, said Erin Horsey, whose family owns the campground.
“Normally, once the kids are out of school, we sell out every weekend,” she said.
Camping is a family-friendly activity that carries reasonable cost, which makes it particularly popular in the summer, Horsey said.
“There’s all kinds of things that we offer to kids and adults each weekend,” she said.
One factor that historically has affected visits is the price of gas.
“Memorial Day is typically a drive holiday,” said Tracy Noble, spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “So prices typically stick to the trend and increase for the holiday, and then we expect them to level off and come back down. We should see a spike in time for the Fourth of July.”
In recent years, the pendulum swings of gas prices have slowed and high prices have become less of a factor for vacation travelers, said Broadley, the Ocean City chamber president.
“It’s the new normal,” he said. “Everybody is used to it being over $3 a gallon. It’s no factor.”
Gas prices in New Jersey last year were $3.57 on the Friday before Memorial Day.
Warm weather is likely to play a much more important role in drawing visitors, said Howard Bacharach, executive director of the Atlantic City Hotel & Lodging Association.
“If the weather is great, the entire summer will be great,” he said. “But if we end up with rainy, cloudy weekends, no matter what our visitor is, they won’t want to come down to Atlantic City.”
Bacharach said that in addition to Margaritaville, he would expect the popular annual Atlantic City Airshow — which will showcase the SkyHawks, a Canadian military parachute team, on June 26 — to build interest in the resort well after Memorial Day.
“This year with the airshow being moved into June instead of August, hopefully we can keep the momentum up,” he said.
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