Stronger than the SARS-CoV-2? Tourism industry seeks NJ ad blitz
With casinos, amusement parks and indoor dining reopening this week with restrictions, New Jersey’s tourism businesses are pressing the state to allocate some of its $2.3 billion in federal aid for an ad blitz to let the region know the state is available for a safe getaway.
Business representatives say a marketing campaign would pay for itself through the activity that would be generated if the state revives industries that accounted for one-third of the jobs in New Jersey before the coronavirus decimated the economy.
“New Jersey’s tourism industry is in severe jeopardy, not just this year because of the pandemic but long-term if we do not work together and address this challenge head-on,” said Adam Perle, president of the New Jersey Tourism Industry Association.
“New Jersey Tourism Industry Association fully supports the utilization of COVID-19 relief funds in the coming year to support a massive marketing campaign, similar to the one, the $25 million campaign dedicated after Hurricane Sandy but perhaps double or triple in size,” Perle said.
Such an ad campaign isn’t in the state’s initial CARES Act spending plan.
Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, D-Essex, who chairs the Assembly tourism committee, said he is sympathetic but that it’ll be difficult to provide that given the state has so many needs.
“Well, everybody knows that’s the challenge because of the fiscal cliff that we just fell off,” Caputo said. “And to get all these dollars in a fair way distributed is going to be very difficult, but it’s something that we’re going to have to solve.”
Jim Kirkos, president and chief executive officer of the Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce, said he was on a call last week with the state Division of Travel and Tourism and the Lou Hammond Group ad agency defining an ad campaign that targets markets within a four-hour drive of New Jersey.
“Tourism spending and promotion in New Jersey should not be looked at like all other line items in the budget because there’s a direct positive net effect from that tourism investment,” Kirkos said. “Some line items in the budget are pure cost, but that’s not the case with tourism.”
Kirkos said the Meadowlands Chamber is beginning a “Live and Kicking” ad campaign. Cape May County has rolled out what tourism director Diane Wieland calls a “confidence campaign” called “Safely Together” that emphasizes social distancing and wearing masks.
“There are no do-overs in tourism. If a room isn’t rented tonight, we can’t rent it twice tomorrow night,” Wieland said. “There are no extra days in July, and every day counts as expenses are mounting and bills are due.”
Wieland said April hotel occupancy taxes in the county were down 99% from a year earlier. Perle said statewide travel spending was down 90% in May and still down close to 60% as of mid-June.
“Many businesses will close. That’s the reality,” Wieland said. “Some will try to reopen, but for many, the shortened season, requirements and restrictions will win in the end.”
That’s not just a concern at the Shore. The New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association has estimated that 20% of restaurants in the state will close, with the problem most acute for smaller, family-owned ethnic restaurants with less access to capital and bank loans.
Arts organizations may face an even bigger hurdle, given the uncertain timelines for reopening, in venues that are primarily indoors.
“According to a national survey conducted by Americans for the Arts on the economic impact of the virus on the arts and cultural sector, specific to New Jersey, only 53% of New Jersey’s nonprofit arts organizations expect to survive the virus,” said Ann Marie Miller, director of public policy and advocacy for ArtPride New Jersey.
The survey of 484 arts organizations in the state finds 95% have canceled events and more than a quarter have laid off or furloughed staff or artists. Social distancing adjustments also will be tough.
“Others like George Street Playhouse at the new New Brunswick Performing Arts Center are struggling with creative plans to accommodate, when regulations allow, 2,300 subscribers when they’re looking at the can only fit 67 people at a time in the theater,” Miller said.
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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.