New Jersey saw a 1.3 percent increase in annual tourism revenue in 2013, setting a record for the state, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno said Thursday.
“Miss America, Wrestlemania, Super Bowl, Special Olympics, beaches to mountains and everything in between, and I’m not going to forget camping,” Guadagno said, listing the events and destinations that attracted tourists in 2013. She spoke at Golden Nugget Atlantic City on the final day of the two-day New Jersey Conference on Tourism.
“If there was ever a time to lower expectations in the industry, it was this year. We had the best year we had ever had (in 2012) … and then we had Sandy,” she said.
Guadagno said that when she first read the numbers, she was in disbelief, especially since it was the first summer after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the Jersey Shore and damaged many tourism destinations.
At the same conference last year, Gov. Chris Christie announced that annual tourism revenues were a record high $40 billion; in 2013 it was $40.4 billion. The number was the highest recorded in 20 years of tracking tourism data.
Businesses along the shore in South Jersey didn’t expect to have a similar run this year.
Despite a $4.7 million ad campaign to battle the image of a damaged shore — starring the governor and his family — many businesses said they saw a noticeable decrease in tourism last summer.
Grace Hanlon, executive director of the state Division of Travel and Tourism, said that while not everyone saw the benefits of the additional tourism, it was a good year for the state.
“Don’t get me wrong, I understand some people did have a rough summer. It wasn’t easy for everybody, but overall for the New Jersey economy and for the resiliency of the industry we did well,” Hanlon said.
Small-business owners told The Press of Atlantic City in September that they saw smaller crowds during the summer and blamed the slow business on a rainy June, misconceptions about the effects of Sandy and lingering effects of the recession.
But the statistics announced by Guadagno reflected a different story.
Her numbers also contradict statements made last month in Galloway Township by Michele Brown, the state economic development chief, at hearings on Sandy relief aid. Brown said 2013’s tourism numbers were slightly below the 2012 figure.
Virginia Pellerin, a spokeswoman for the Economic Development Authority, said the report Guadagno cited Thursday contains new data that was unavailable earlier in the year. She also said the tourism data Brown referenced included only the four shore counties, not the entire state.
Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian met with Guadagno after her speech Thursday and said he discussed possible incentives to bring more nongaming business to the resort.
Guardian acknowledged that Atlantic City was one of the areas that did not see the increase suggested by the revenues announced by Guadagno.
“Casinos were everything to Atlantic City, and we lost sight as to what people who travel wanted, we turned a deaf ear,” Guardian said. “Atlantic City has always been a tourism destination, and we just got rusty. But we got a wake-up call.”
Some of the ideas he discussed with Guadagno include developing an 11-acre park that would appeal to college students attending classes in the city, as well as making Gardner’s Basin the Fisherman’s Wharf of Atlantic City, imitating the San Francisco landmark.
Tourism directly and indirectly supports 512,000 jobs, or about 10 percent of jobs in New Jersey, Guadagno said. The industry is the state’s fifth-largest employer.
State and local taxes from tourism were more than $4.6 billion, and tourism was responsible for $36 billion of the state’s gross domestic product. The total spent by visitors in the state was $38 billion, and visitation to the state rose 5.9 percent. In addition, Guadagno said, construction of tourism-specific facilities increased 24 percent, understandably due to the recovery efforts after the hurricane.
“You all here, because of what you do every day, have benefited New Jersey in ways that is hard to put a dollar amount on,” Guadagno told the crowd at The Showroom at Golden Nugget. “I never want to forget that it wasn’t just the Jersey Shore that was hurt by the storm, but we were all open for business and it was important for all of us to get the message out. And we all did it collectively.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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