As the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce turns 100 years old this year, the organization is going all in to market the region and emerge from the shadow of Hurricane Sandy.

The chamber will hold its first meeting of the year Tuesday, featuring a slate of speakers who will discuss the theme "The New Normal: Success Through Partnerships."

The chamber's quest is to find the region's new normal after the storm and map out how the area will be seen in 2020. Those plans will be unveiled.

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"We know there is beach replenishment and other things happening in the region to help us recover, but we have to focus on the positive and be transparent," said Lori Pepenella, destination marketing director for Long Beach Island at the chamber.

In the years before Sandy, the economy and trends in tourism had been changing, but the October 2012 storm accelerated everything, Pepenella said.

The plan is to market how Long Beach Island is different in what it provides visitors, Pepenella said, under the campaign "The Long Beach Island region is always in season."

"It could have been status quo for the next few years, but everything got ripped off, and before we put it back together quickly, we need to assess what all these pieces are. There is a lot of expense that goes with rebuilding, returning here and living here," Pepenella said.

The focus now is on the full economic-development component for the region and not just the short-term experience.

Pepenella acknowledged the region could not overpromise and underdeliver to tourists and residents on Long Beach Island.

"I think what we've always done has been relative to what the area has needed, and now we're really trying to figure out what the endgame is going to be. To live, work and play is not going to be the same as what it was," she said.

Through a grant from the state Division of Destination and Marketing, the chamber has hired Princeton Strategic Communications to create a marketing campaign for the upcoming season, she said. The grant will fund the $10,000 to hire the firm, she added.

"The reasoning behind hiring the PR firm is because whenever we put anything out, it automatically becomes Sandy-related. Even though we are a recovery area, there are other things and events that need to be highlighted. We're proud of the recovery, but it would be nice to get over the recovery image that we are in," she said.

Norris Clark, owner of Princeton Strategic Communications, said the plan was to tell Long Beach Island's story to potential visitors from New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Clark said this was the year to tell visitors to come back, but also for the chamber to tap into new markets.

"I don't think the LBI region is in competition with other destinations. I think they can really help each other. We're looking to draw people there, period. I wouldn't say we are looking to take people away from other areas," he said.

The firm will work alongside the chamber to communicate current events taking place and capitalize on opportunities to intersect with the larger destination of the Jersey Shore, said Clark, who has also worked with Wildwood on tourism-marketing campaigns.

"We'd like to do some research and understand what draws people to LBI versus Atlantic City or Cape May. We're going to be looking into the current interest in the Jersey Shore as a destination. Who comes here? What keeps them coming back, and why do they pick the towns they do?" Clark said.

Dana Lancellotti, director of business development and tourism for Ocean County, said the region as a whole wants visitors to know that it has not been destroyed and that it can handle business coming this summer.

The county has come a long way since Sandy and continues to move forward, Lancellotti said.

The tourism industry contributes a great deal of employment in the county, and the storm affected workers. Many of the individuals who operate tourist destinations in the county also live here, and many lost their homes in the storm.

"What we want people to know is what's real. It is over a year now. And as far as the attractions and beaches go, we are in wonderful condition to celebrate and we're in a better place than last year and we'll be in a better place next year," she said.

Contact Donna Weaver:


@DonnaKWeaver on Twitter

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