There are no broad beaches, roller coasters or casinos, and no one worries about getting stuck in summer traffic jams or watching out for boardwalk tram cars.
Cumberland County is marketing itself as the other South Jersey tourist destination, the one that is laid back and where visitors can kayak rivers, bike through rural areas, fish the Delaware Bay, explore some of the oldest settlements in the state and see shows at rebuilt historic theaters.
There is some evidence that the effort is working. Statistics from the state Division of Travel and Tourism show $318 million worth of direct tourism sales in Cumberland County last year, a more than 7 percent increase from 2011. That was a larger percentage increase than in Cape May and Ocean counties, while Atlantic County saw a decrease in those sales.
Cumberland County’s tourism sales are still dwarfed by the $7.6 billion made last year in Atlantic County, $5.2 billion in Cape May County and $4.2 billion in Ocean County, the state statistics show.
And Cumberland will have to rely on more than money to try to garner a larger piece of the South Jersey tourism pie: The tourism budgets for Cape May and Ocean counties are $302,000 and $120,000, respectively. Atlantic County does not have a designated tourism budget but works through its government website and partners with different agencies. Financially strapped Cumberland County budgets $20,000 that is split between tourism and recreation efforts.
“It’s pretty small,” said Kim Gauntt, administrator for the Cumberland County Tourism Advisory Council.
That is one reason why Gauntt shows up at any event she can to hand out brochures and talk up the county’s tourism opportunities. She admits that the majority of those events are in-county, and the trick is to spread the word outside its borders on a limited budget.
That could begin happening on a larger than normal scale. Cumberland officials are using internal resources to expand their tourism market and create new economic opportunities for a county desperate to create new jobs.
Gauntt said the county hopes to have its first tourism website operational by the end of the year. That would essentially replace tourism information that can be easily overlooked on the county government website touting everything from how to file a tax appeal to road work projects.
The county will start showing tourism commercials on televisions at Atlantic City International Airport on May 24, Gauntt said. The 15-second spots, which cost $3,000, will show tourism opportunities in Cumberland County to the more than 1 million travelers who use the airport annually, she said.
And Gauntt said the county will resume tours to show its attractions to representatives from the media and travel organizations such as AAA. The first tour is scheduled for September and will showcase Vineland and Millville, she said. Another tour scheduled for the spring will highlight places such as Greenwich, the site of a Revolutionary War-era tea party, and Delaware Bay communities such as Fortescue, which has a sizable recreational fishing industry, she said.
The county is also developing a series of bicycle trails that will be marketed toward both experienced bikers and families. One of the trails waiting state approval would run for about 15 miles between East Point in Maurice River Township and Bivalve in Commercial Township. The trail would flank the Maurice River.
James Watson, the county’s new economic development director, said he wants to build off those and other efforts to extend day trips by working with hotels and attractions to create weekend stays. Those stays would be for everything from a visit to the New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville, to a show at the Landis Theater in Vineland, to a two-day kayaking or fishing trip, he said.
“We want them to make a weekend of it,” Watson said. “Tourism is a key economic engine, and we want more.”
Dave Scherer has run environmental cruises on the Maurice River between Millville and Mauricetown in Commercial Township for the past eight years. He said his cruises — guaranteed to give travelers at least one eagle sighting — draw customers from the surrounding region and as far away as the West Coast.
Scherer, who many locals just call “Capt. Dave,” said he likes the county’s plan to expose its attractions to more potential visitors.
“I don’t think people really appreciate what we have,” said Scherer. “Make a weekend out of it. They have an opportunity to go to different venues. They’re not just locked into one thing.”
That includes Scherer’s latest venture — paddleboats that people can rent for about a one-mile round trip between Millville’s municipal docks and Union Lake.
While Cumberland County’s tourism budget is small, it benefits from state funds given to the different New Jersey-designated tourism regions. Cumberland and Cape May counties are in the Southern Shore region, which received $141,000 last year.
Diane Wieland, Cape May County’s tourism director, who oversees the state funds for the Southern Shore region, said both Cape May and Cumberland counties benefit from the mutual advertising. Cumberland County officials in particular are “much more aware of their role” in providing nature and environmental tourism — “which is a big thing,” she said.
That is in part because many of South Jersey’s more famous and busy seashore tourism destinations are built out, she said.
“They are the only area that has the potential for growth,” Wieland said of Cumberland. “We look at them as our potential for growth.”
Gauntt hopes that will eventually happen.
“We have so much to offer here,” she said.
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