Diane Wieland, 57, started working for Cape May County in July 1975 and today serves as the director of tourism and the Division of Culture and Heritage. The Middle Township resident oversees a department with a $300,000 operating budget that is responsible for marketing the county to potential visitors in the U.S. and Canada.
Q: What promotional efforts are being undertaken by the county and other groups to promote Cape May County in 2012 and what are the goals? How do they differ from previous years?
A: This year we are targeting more of the drive market. That 300-mile radius. Gas costs are certainly a factor when everyone is making decisions. There are 30 million people in a 300-mile radius of Cape May County, a tank of gas away. We would like to expand and do Ohio and Indiana and expand to those markets, but we understand that that is difficult. It’s costly to open new markets and we need to concentrate on those within that tank of gas away who are familiar with us and are looking. We are looking for that return visitor.
Q: What partnerships does Cape May County have with Atlantic City’s ACA? How does Cape May County work with Atlantic City, the casinos and Atlantic County to promote tourism?
A: We’ve been working with Atlantic County for years. We have a publication, the Southern New Jersey Vacationer, and Atlantic County was one of our partners. We worked with the ACCVA with Jeff Vasser doing travel shows together. We understand and they understand that a large part of our market, about 26 percent of our visitors, go to Atlantic City. So we want to make sure that their message is part of what we are doing and we also know that a number of people that visit Atlantic City come to Cape May, come to Ocean City, so the partnership is very important. How Atlantic City goes, the rest of the state goes. We understand that, and we always like to know that while we can’t offer the entertainment and the gaming that they can we can still promote it as within a short drive.
Q: Say you have to tell someone who has never set foot at the Jersey Shore why they should come to the county. What would you tell them?
A: I think number one is the beaches. And we hear that time after time at travel shows that people travel all over the world and they just love the beaches — the New Jersey beaches, and especially the Cape May County beaches — so when we have 89 percent of the visitors come for the beaches that is our key message in explaining to people why they need to be there. I think the other part is the diversity. We have the nature. We have history. We have a little something that everybody is interested in, the families are interested in. It’s a great experience. It’s an educational experience as well as entertainment. I think that’s what catches what we find when we show a picture of one of our beaches and they say “Where is that?” and we can tell them that it’s Cape May County. Not too far away. That’s our biggest push, making sure that they know we have these great beaches and boardwalks and entertainment.
Q: How do you measure the success of your promotional efforts? What numbers can you rely on to tell you that the promotions and marketing efforts are working?
A: Well, one of our biggest metrics system would be through Google Analytics. How many people are going on our website as a result of our advertising? We drive most of our advertising to the website. The other part is how many ... what is the conversion? How many people are asking for brochures? What are we sending out? We send out on an average about 50,000 packets of information a year.
Q: And how many people are visiting your website in a usual year?
A: We have probably about 175,000 unique visitors a year. That continues to grow as more and more people are using the Internet for looking. A lot of people plan their vacation using the Internet, so they’re looking more for the activity rather than the location. So they are looking for beaches or surfing or history. They’ll find us on the website.
Q: The tourism business is made up of private entities — hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions. So what role can and should county government play in the tourism industry in Cape May County?
A: One of the most important roles that we play and we have focused more and more on over the past few years is creating this destination feeling that Cape May County is one destination with many different diverse attractions, resorts, events that bring people together to the destination, to the county, but easily able to move around and visit and experience a lot more than you would if you were just staying in one town.
Q: Can Cape May County ever be a year-round destination? Or how close can it get to being a year-round destination?
A: We’re seeing more and more people coming because of the second homeowners creating a year-round destination. Cape May has certainly been at the forefront. One of the biggest disadvantages that we had during the ’70s and ’80s was many of the motels didn’t have heat. But now, we see more and more condos (again second homeowners). They have heat. They come down if there is something for them to do, the weather is mild. Whatever is happening, they’re keyed into what is going on in Cape May County and they are coming and we are seeing it throughout the year.
Q: Who are the county’s target visitors and why?
A: We are looking at — as far as our visitor base, we have our top three — is Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. We have been very successful with promoting to the Canadians, the French-Canadians from the province of Quebec. We are seeing that market return. We are looking for families and couples. When we do our surveys each year we are finding that it is almost a 50/50 mix of those that are coming with children and those that are coming as a couple.
Q: How much money is budgeted for county tourism and how has that figure increased or decreased over the years that you have been with the department?
A: We have a budget of a little over $300,000. We have been very fortunate because the Board of Chosen Freeholders — while there have been many departments that have been asked to reduce their budget, we have been able to maintain our budget at that same level. We have been able to supplement some of that with grant dollars working with the destination marketing organizations as well as getting individual grants from the state to help supplement marketing efforts.
Q: So that money then, what is it mostly used for?
A: I would say about 60 percent of it is for direct print, radio and television advertising. The rest would be for printing brochures, graphic design, photography, videography and also getting us on the Internet.
Q: We often talk about the shoulder season and its growing importance. What is the shoulder season from your perspective and how is it contributing to the county’s tourism revenues?
A: We look at the spring shoulder season as being anything from Easter to right before the Fourth of July weekend. Even though Memorial Day weekend kicks off the season, it still gets slow because it’s all based on the school year. After Labor Day all the way through Christmas, we are seeing that the shoulder season is expanding and bringing more people here. One of the advantages that we have, that really is the phenomenon in New Jersey, is the number of second home owners who have their properties here who come and support Cape May County and the tourism industry during the shoulder season.
Q: Birding is a popular activity. How has that activity affected Cape May County and do you see other outdoor activities becoming a larger draw for the county?
A: Birding is phenomenal in Cape May County. We are listed as one of the top three hot spots in North America for birding. We are finding birders come from all over the country, especially during the migratory spring and fall season. It brings a lot of families. It brings people who are spending more than a weekend. They are coming from a longer distance. We saw a great increase in numbers of birders from Canada. We worked to market birding in Canada because we look at a robin and it’s natural for us. That is not a bird that they are really familiar with in Canada. So just what we see on a regular basis, it’s of much interest to Canadians.
Q: Customer service is key in drawing new and repeat visitors to any business. How is Cape May County doing in that arena and can things be improved if needed?
A: Things can always be improved. We find for the most part, and we ask this question not only in our annual surveys but when we are on the road at our travel shows, you know, what do you think about Cape May County and how are you being treated? One of the top three responses that we get is that it is friendly and that it’s family-oriented, and that they feel safe here. So that’s important for any destination, but I think we do pretty well in that area.
Q: What would you say are the biggest problems facing Cape May County tourism?
A: One of our biggest problems is that we are very, very much dependent on baby boomers, and as they start to age we need to start to develop a younger demographic, bring more families in here, people who are going to come and spend dollars. But that is not just Cape May County. That is everywhere. We definitely need to work to make sure that we are providing the experience that people are looking for. You know it’s that “been there done that” attitude. Loyalty is not something that we see a lot of. So we want to make sure what we are bringing to our message is that we have new and exciting attractions and that we are working to keep ahead of the curve for what people are looking for.
Q: Tourism is the county’s number one industry. What sort of revenue does it bring to the county and how important is tourism in terms of employment tax revenue any other figures you might use?
A: We get our information and data from the State Division of Travel and Tourism. Tourism in Cape May County is the most important in the entire state. In Cape May County, it’s about 48 percent of our economy comes from tourism. It’s a $5.1 billion industry, and we generate $483 million in local and state taxes. So we are sending to Trenton about $1 million a day in taxes just from the tourism industry.
Q: While tourism is the county’s top money-maker, tourists also require services. How do the county’s municipalities cope with the strain that is placed on them for several months during the year?
A: It’s difficult, and it continues to be a burden on the tax base in each municipality. Most of our mayors and public officials understand the value of tourism. I think that it is they are looking at ways through the beach fees, and through occupancy tax and other revenues that are generated as a user fee by the tourist, so that it does help offset some of the cost. But you know, it’s about 32,000 jobs that are related to Cape May County directly and probably another 10,000 indirectly. So it’s very important that we keep the message out there. Each family, each homeowner would pay about $1,400 more a year in property taxes if it wasn’t for the tourism industry.
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