Still months from a complete picture, early indicators for Cape May County and Atlantic City suggest tourism in South Jersey — consistently a primary economic driver — had a standout year.
In Atlantic City, gaming revenue across the summer months, and revenue from the luxury tax through July, indicate a strong year for tourism to the resort, according to Larry Sieg, director of communications and marketing for the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.
A complete picture for both Atlantic City and Cape May County won’t be available until later in the year, when certain numbers are released. Still, there are positive signs.
Sieg said the state Division of Gaming Enforcement has yet to release this year’s hotel occupancy rate. But through July, the luxury tax income in Atlantic City was around $24 million dollars, an increase of 11% over the previous year, according to Sieg.
“I think we’re gonna see some really good results,” Sieg said. “We’re waiting now on the August and September numbers.”
Some data points suggest a record season for tourism spending and the number of visitors to Cape May County this summer, according to the county Department of Tourism and Public Information.
Freeholder E. Marie Hayes, liaison to the Cape May County Department of Tourism, said Memorial Day weekend broke records for many businesses, and there was 100% occupancy for July 4 weekend.
“The numbers are compelling and point to what I have witnessed in my travels around the county,” Hayes said.
The department drew its predictions from occupancy tax collection from the beginning of the year through July, which was up 8.4% over 2018 — an increase of $544,922. July alone generated almost half the income of the first six months, and the collection through the end of the month was just over $7 million.
Occupancy tax in 2018 brought in a total of $12.5 million, said Cape May County Tourism Director Diane Wieland.
The county’s tourism industry ranks second to Atlantic County.
It may stay that way as gaming revenue figures show Atlantic City, the county’s chief tourism draw, had a strong year.
Gaming revenue in the summer months jumped about 16% over last year; nongaming revenue at casinos, only available on a quarterly basis, went up about 18%; and traffic going through the Pleasantville toll plaza was up 1.74% over the summer months, said Rummy Pandit, executive director of Stockton University’s Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming Hospitality & Tourism.
The Atlantic County lodging fee was up 6.7% in June and 6.4% in July, Pandit said.
Another measure of a robust tourism season: the success of big events. The CRDA invested about $152,000 in the Atlantic City Airshow. While the economic impact figures have yet to be released for this year, 400,000 visitors to the show in 2018 translated to about $45 million in spending in the city, according to Sieg. This year, about 546,000 people came for the show.
“So, of course, we’re going to see definitely an uptick in the economic impact,” Sieg said.
Cape May County still outpaces the rest of the state in tourism spending in the food and beverage, retail, recreation and rental income sectors, according to Wieland. That could be paying off, according to their early estimates of tourism’s performance over the summer.
Another factor: special events, restaurants, retail outlets and agri-tourism sectors such as wineries and birding have helped lure visitors and second-home owners back during the “shoulder seasons,” according to Freeholder Gerald M. Thornton.
“Businesses are staying open longer and playing a large part in the county’s expanding economy,” Thornton said. “Tourism is the economic driver in Cape May County, generating 60% of the total employment and complements new and emerging industries that the county has been aggressively pursuing, such as aviation and technology.”