The Tourism Challenge

Budget cuts make it tougher than ever to market our state.

Funny thing about New Jersey and tourism. The state isn’t seen as a tourist destination—like Florida, California, or Maine—but places in the state are extremely popular. In effect, there are many New Jerseys.

Think about it. New York, for most people, means Manhattan. That’s the destination. But in New Jersey, the Shore alone presents dozens of destinations from which a tourist can choose, not to mention attractions from the Pinelands to the Skylands.

That diversity is one of the things that makes New Jersey tourism a tough marketing and branding challenge. These days, the responsibility for tourism in New Jersey falls to Secretary of State Kim Guadagno, who also happens to be our lieutenant governor. Guadagno is in lockstep with Governor Chris Christie on the need to slice the state budget, including the budget for tourism, which was cut by $2 million this spring.

Guadagno does not mince words when it comes to the importance of tourism, which she considers a top priority. “Part of my job is to generate jobs for New Jersey,” she says. “A key aspect of doing that is tourism. It generates jobs and revenue.”

How important is tourism to New Jersey? The state’s Division of Travel and Tourism reported revenues from tourism totaling $38.8 billion in 2008. That was down from the record $39.5 billion set in 2007, but still a hefty sum. According to the agency’s report, “If tourism did not exist, each New Jersey household would pay $1,427 more in taxes to maintain current tax receipts.” We know how painful that would be. What’s more, the report said, 10.9 percent of the state’s total employment, or 443,094 “direct and indirect jobs,” were related to travel and tourism. And by the way, of the money spent on tourism in 2008, about 64 percent came from out of state and 2 percent from international visitors.

To help stretch tourism marketing dollars, Guadagno says she’ll work closely with the state’s seventeen destination-marketing organizations—such as the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority—which are charged with figuring out how best to use public dollars to promote their local areas. “We want to make sure the $9 million the governor has promised maximizes a return for everyone,” says Guadagno. “We hope to leverage our taxes with the money contributed by the destination-marketing organizations. Other states are facing the same economic challenges that we are. In New Jersey, we are preserving funding in a way that would give us the most bang for our buck.”

Another element of the state’s tourism strategy is a heavy emphasis on the Internet to reach and inform potential visitors. Anthony Minick, director of marketing for the Division of Travel and Tourism, which reports to Guadagno, says the state’s tourism website has been revamped and is “focusing on a destination approach.”

“A lot of folks when they go on vacation, they say they went to Cape May or Wildwood. They don’t say they went to New Jersey,” Minick says. “So, we homed in on the destination theme. What we are finding is that those places are really the most requested pages on our site.”

Where is the biggest growth opportunity for New Jersey tourism? The answer may be north of the border. “Canada is one of our strongest international markets,” Minick says. “I think it is because of the location. You don’t have to get on a plane to come here. You drive down the Thruway and head for the Parkway. There are a lot of reasons that Cape May and Wildwood are good attractions to Canadians. We haven’t done any real surveys on it, [but] we do know it is close for them and they like our beaches.”

Those closer to home, including Jersey residents, also are drawn to Garden State destinations. Ironically, the economy has made New Jersey more attractive than ever. If there are fewer dollars to spend on a summer vacation, people are a lot less likely to fly to Europe and stay there for a week than they are to rent a house—or as my family used to say, a bungalow—down the Shore. They save a lot of money in the process and spend time at some of the world’s best beaches. It’s a hell of a deal.

Steve Adubato, PhD., is an Emmy Award-winning anchor for Thirteen/WNET and a media analyst and columnist for MSNBC.com, who also appears regularly on CBS 2. He is the author of the book Make the Connection, as well as his newest book What Were They Thinking?, which examines highly publicized and often controversial public relations and media mishaps. For more information, log on to stand-deliver.com.

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