Not even last year’s Superstorm Sandy could wash away a historic tourist season in New Jersey.
Gov. Chris Christie announced Wednesday that tourism hit a record level in 2012 and accounted for nearly $40 billion, a $2 billion increase from 2011. The 2012 figure marks the highest annual total since record-keeping began. About 82.5 million visitors came to New Jersey last year, an increase of nearly 5 percent from 2011.
“That's even more amazing in light of the storm we had on Oct. 29,” said Christie.
Hurricane Sandy hit in the fall after the summer tourism season had ended. Many tourism-related businesses and shore communities said nice weather during the summer led to a good season through Labor Day weekend.
The storm still left New Jersey with many damaged tourist destinations, including the Jersey Shore. Tourism is New Jersey's third-largest industry, after pharmaceuticals and chemicals.
“While these 2012 results are positive and encouraging, we are still facing the challenges of the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. We must continue to look to the future and continue the steady progress of rebuilding,” said Governor Christie.
New Jersey's travel and tourism industry directly supports 318,560 jobs, a 2 percent increase over 2011 and the largest single year percentage increase over the last six years. When combined with indirect jobs, the total exceeds 500,000 jobs, or 10 percent of all New Jersey jobs, said Christie.
The report also states that tourism generated $34.7 billion of state gross domestic product in 2012, or 7 percent of the entire state economy. Including direct and indirect impacts, tourism generated $4.5 billion in state and local taxes and $5.1 billion in federal taxes last year. Hotel room demand also grew 5.8 percent last year.
As part of Christie's Recovery Action Plan, the state is planning a $25 million advertising campaign to restore confidence in the public's perception of the Shore. Visitors need to know it “is open for business,” according to the governor.
Christie said the shore is not a monolith, and parts of it fared much better than others.
“South of Long Beach Island, things are pretty much normal at the Jersey Shore, and folks need to know that,” he told a tourism conference in Atlantic City. “These communities are ready to go. They have rental communities and their businesses are ready to go.”
Problems arise though heading north into Ocean County and parts of Monmouth County, according to the governor.
Boardwalks are being rebuilt in Belmar and Seaside Heights, but some spots will still have damage this summer.
“I've always said the Jersey shore will come back, but it will be different,” he said. “There are places that will look and feel different. There's no way around that.”
Christie said each of the storm-damaged boardwalks should be ready for use by Memorial Day weekend.