Inflation has been squeezing families' purses, and gas prices are less than ideal. And businesses at the Jersey Shore definitely got a sense this summer that folks have less money to throw around.

Shore merchants say summer 2023 wasn't a horrible season business-wise, but it was a different one. Plenty of New Jerseyans and out-of-staters continue to hit the coast in droves — they're just a bit more fearful of how easily costs can add up.

"There are changes in their spending habits. Inflation hit everybody," said Diane Wieland, director of the Cape May County Department of Tourism.

In July, Cape May County recorded a 17% increase in occupancy taxes from a year prior. But people are not staying for as long as they used to, Wieland said.

"Thirty-nine percent of our visitors in the past stayed seven days or longer. Now we're seeing that down to 28%," she said.

Dining habits have shifted since the pandemic, Wieland added. More visitors appear to be interested in takeout or casual dining, over a sit-down meal.

Wieland made her comments during a "Jersey Shoreview" event hosted by the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at Stockton University.

Event panelists described summer 2023 as "OK." Visitor numbers were up and labor shortages weren't as bad as predicted.

Sharon Franz, sales and marketing director for Steel Pier in Atlantic City, said rough weather in July and August chipped away at their money-making opportunities.

"You can't predict the weather, and that's what was against us this year," Franz said.

Most of the pier will be closing for the season in the weeks ahead, but The Wheel, a massive, temperature-controlled attraction, will continue to run with special events leading up to the holidays.

Towns along the Jersey Shore are using the shoulder season to bring in additional dollars before closing until spring.

"Spending is down ... but if we can increase the number of people who come to Cape May County, we can offset some of that," Wieland said. "We're seeing that the winter and fall are a pretty good option for us to increase the visitation."

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