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NJ Tourism Struggled with Public Perception Post-Sandy [SERIES]

In part four of our series Sandy: Then and Now, we look at how tourism was affected by the storm, and how it struggled to rebuild, both physically and metaphorically.

Matisse in Belmar after Sandy
Matisse in Belmar after Sandy (Facebook)

Images of splintered boardwalks and battered coastlines dominated the airwaves after Sandy. For the state’s tourism industry, recovery meant rebuilding perception, as well as structures.

Tourism accounts for $40 billion in revenue for New Jersey, supporting 318,500 jobs directly and a half-million indirectly.

Robert Hilton, President of the Jersey Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau, says initially it was important to delineate the businesses that were closed from the ones that remained open.

“So we started to list on our website what businesses were open and what areas were not open. Where people should go and where people shouldn’t go,” Hilton explained.

He note the JSCVB also partnered with the New Jersey Restaurant Association to create a running list of what businesses were open. Working with local businesses and county leaders, Hilton says they launched the “Open For Business” campaign as a way to let the public in and out of state know about businesses reopening.

“Those signs you can actually still see around different towns on the Jersey Shore…That was the campaign that is now in 42 different states and 13 countries around the world,” he said.

Hilton says the towns that did the best this summer were the ones that worked with them in the offseason to get the message out that they were undamaged by Sandy or rebuilding in time for summer, specifically mentioning towns like Red Bank and Belmar.

Governor Chris Christie
Governor Chris Christie waves to students on the beach after officially opening the newly rebuilt boardwalk in Belmar, N.J. (Governor’s Office/Tim Larsen)

He says attendance for festivals remained steady, a product of visitors wanting to support the area, but not willing to commit to rentals.

While Sandy was a big factor in reduced numbers at the shore, Hilton says the rainy season didn’t help matters either. However, it did spotlight some non-beach attractions in the state.

“A lot of what I heard was, ‘Hey I never even knew there was a race track here, I haven’t been to Six Flags in years, we didn’t know Allaire state park had this festival or that festival.’”

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