The economy of New Jersey depends on tourism. It is the state's third-largest industry, worth $35.5 billion and providing more than 300,000 jobs and $4.4 billion in state and local tax revenue.
So efforts to get the Sandy-ravaged sections of Long Beach Island and other North Jersey and Central Jersey shore communities rebuilt are vitally important. That's why Gov. Chris Christie and the state's congressional delegation are pressing so hard for federal disaster relief aid.
But one unintended consequence of this effort is that many people outside New Jersey have the misconception that the entire shore is shut down. Relief organizations and officials seeking federal aid have emphasized the worst of the destruction. Pictures of flooded neighborhoods and a battered Seaside Heights roller coaster sitting in the ocean have become iconic. Shoddy reporting after the storm - in which television stations spread the false idea that the Atlantic City Boardwalk had been severely damaged - didn't help either.
The damage from Sandy, as bad as it was in coastal South Jersey, was not as bad as in coastal areas farther north.
But a poll earlier this month commissioned by the Atlantic City Alliance shows 25 percent of people nationwide - and 32 percent of people in the Northeast - still believe Atlantic City's Boardwalk was destroyed. Those are disappointing figures, especially since the ACA was created specifically to improve the city's marketing efforts. Clearly more needs to be done. What more important message could there be than to assure potential visitors that casinos, the Boardwalk and the rest of the city are open for business?
Setting the record straight about Atlantic City and letting potential visitors know that the other shore towns in Atlantic and Cape May counties are ready for vacationers may be just as important to the state economy as repairing storm damage.
Last March, a study by the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism showed that southern New Jersey's piece of the shore is responsible for an outsized share of the tourism industry. Atlantic County alone accounted for more than 30 percent of total tourism-related spending in 2010. With Cape May County, that figure is 46 percent, nearly half.
Mayors of Cape May County shore towns held a press conference Monday to say their beaches and their towns are in good shape. Tourism officials are also lobbying state lawmakers for an extra $20 million for an advertising campaign to counteract misinformation about the extent of Sandy's impact.
That's a lot of money. But the word does need to get out. At the very least, existing marketing funds for shore tourism should be targeted to correcting these misperceptions.
And the Atlantic City Alliance needs to continue its efforts to clear the record about Atlantic City.