The Atlantic County Economic Alliance took an important step last month toward reviving the area, finally restoring a tourism marketing campaign for the whole county.
Many years ago, the county had robust tourism promotion, carried out by a tourism association and funded by the state. Then casino gambling dominated visitation to the area and sucked up all the marketing money.
With the closing of half of Atlantic City’s casinos, gaming isn’t so dominant and doesn’t deserve all the eggs in the marketing basket. As planning consultant James Rutala noted, gaming accounts for just $2.6 billion of the nearly $6.7 billion in countywide tourism revenue. And that’s without any meaningful marketing of county attractions and activities outside Atlantic City.
The ACEA, a nonprofit created to encourage development in line with the recommendations of the Angelou Economics report of 2015, will spend $40,000 for a year’s worth of marketing.
The campaign, including promotion at trade shows and online, will be conducted by the NJ Southern Shore DMO. That destination-marketing organization already does similar work for Cape May and Cumberland counties.
The alliance’s effort is welcome and so much better than doing nothing … but so far from enough.
Richard Perniciaro, the economist heading the Center for Regional & Business Research at Atlantic Cape Community College and a dean there, told The Press Editorial Board in September that Cape May County’s well-marketed nongaming tourism industry delivers per-person incomes there that are $8,000 more than in Atlantic County.
Perniciaro said Cape May County puts “a couple million dollars every year into the tourism budget … a lot of money because the county sees the reward from it.” Atlantic County would benefit from a similar effort.
State tourism funding for Atlantic County would pay off better for residents if it marketed nongaming visits and vacations, instead of just adding to the already substantial gambling promotion by the remaining casinos. Convincing state officials will be tough because state revenues from casinos are clearer than the greater but diverse stream of revenue from the accommodations, restaurants, service businesses and retailers where nongaming visitors spend their money.
The county should put money into countywide tourism as well. When it gets its 13.5 percent share of casino payments in lieu of taxes, as it should, that would be a good time to announce some additional money to promote the region.