Millions in advertising and marketing dollars - and unquantifiable value in word of mouth hopefully generated by a host of events - are being poured into driving home the message that the Jersey Shore is open for business this summer.
Arguably no boost is more significant than the marketing plan being rolled out by the state. Gov. Chris Christie received permission to use $25 million of $1.8 billion in federal disaster relief to fund a forthcoming campaign of advertisements, outreach and sponsorships to deliver the message that the shore - and particularly the shore south of Long Beach Island - is open.
That amount represents nearly three times what the state typically spends on tourism promotion annually, officials said. The campaign led by public relations firm MWW of East Rutherford, Bergen County, will target the East Coast, the Mid-Atlantic and California, areas that typically bring the most tourists to the state, according to a request for proposals issued by the state Economic Development Authority.
"I listened to testimony on how places like Ocean City, Md., are taking advantage of our predicament and aggressively trying to steal tourists away from the Jersey Shore under the guise that we are not open for business," said state Assemblyman Chris Brown, R-Atlantic. "We couldn't let that happen."
The move for increased marketing statewide came after the Assembly Tourism and the Arts Committee held a hearing on Hurricane Sandy's impact on local businesses. Even for businesses that weren't directly affected by water damage, many still took a hit from the national media coverage that in some cases mistakenly reported damage.
In Atlantic City, many national outlets reported that the Boardwalk had been wiped out entirely. In reality, what was destroyed was an already damaged section in the residential South Inlet section of the city, while the famed stretch in front of the casinos went nearly untouched. In the month after the storm, polls conducted by the Atlantic City Alliance, a nonprofit casino-funded marketing coalition, found that 41 percent of people nationwide and 52 percent of people in the Northeast believed the Boardwalk was destroyed.
"You don't need an MBA in marketing to realize that Al Roker almost single-handedly put 318,000 people in our tourism industry out of work once he mistakenly proclaimed the Atlantic City Boardwalk was wiped out," Brown said. "People who lost their homes are now faced with the possibility of not having a job, thanks to sensationalism."
Jeff Guaracino, a spokesman for the Atlantic City Alliance, said early on the agency added elements to its campaign to promote the idea that the shore was open for business after the storm. Now, however, the marketing no longer mentions Sandy at all. That was done delibertately, he said.
"A lot of people are doing Sandy recovery things, and there are truly destinations that are still recovering from Sandy. We feel we have to be even more clear to the potential visitors that we didn't have that kind of impact here," Guaracino said.
The alliance spends $20 million a year marketing the city. Some of those efforts reflect post-Sandy recovery, but no specific dollar amount is tied to marketing after the storm.
Guaracino said that now, the more important thing Alantic City can do is continue to host new events such as the recent wine festival on the Boardwalk. Those events and others, including the Memorial Day weekend opening of Margaritaville at Resorts Casino Hotel, will draw visitors who hopefully will tell others about their positive experiences.
"The job is far from over, and we are far from done," Guaracino said.
Greater Atlantic City Chamber President Joe Kelly said successful events will have the greatest impact in combating perceptions. He pointed to the Atlantic City Airshow on June 26 as one of those events. Held before the height of the tourist season that starts July 4, the show will hopefully encourage others to come see that the resort is alive and well, he said.
"I think we've got to stay to our message and stay on task. We can't assume that people know we're ready to go. We have to keep telling them," Kelly said.
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