Last year the pent-up demand from Covid lockdowns and travel troubles drove tourism records at the Jersey Shore.
This year room bookings are again extremely strong, beaches are packed, traffic is heavy, and boardwalks, promenades and downtowns are crowded. Visitors are willing to do their part in setting another record if they can find a way.
Inflation has increased the prices American consumers are paying by 9%, and much more for the gas to drive to the shore. A bear market in stocks, bonds and other investments is making many people poorer and most feel poorer. And economists say a U.S. recession is likely next.
No wonder anecdotal reports from businesses to tourism officials suggest visitors are doing what they can to moderate their spending. Last year they had their share of trillions in federal pandemic aid. This year it looks like the bill is coming due for government’s unprecedented borrowing and spending, and they must prepare for it -- even in the midst of family fun at the ocean.
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This great shore tourism season -- which could yet set another record -- is still partly due to the rebound from the pandemic. That diminishing factor will be gone by next year or the following.
The underlying growth trend, however, looks sufficiently strong to ensure a good to very bright future for the Jersey Shore’s dominant industry.
A recent survey of industry data for Cape May County showed that in the past decade, the tourism season has strengthened and expanded to the months before and after the summer core. Now visitors are coming and staying from early in the spring to later in the fall -- for a seven-month season of visitors and businesses catering to them.
Diane Wieland, Cape May County’s director of tourism, said there are more events for visitors in the shoulder seasons, more special events year-round, and a high number of second-home owners who throughout the year spend some of their time at the shore.
Even tourism in January, February and March has steadily grown compared to prior years, Wieland said. “The five winter months, November through March, can’t compare to the revenue generated during the summer but does indicate a healthy and a promising expansion that can lean toward a nine-month to year-round tourism economy,” she said.
This kind of development of the market is a slow process. Neither the visitors nor the businesses serving them can come first -- they must arise and attain their respective vacation and commerce goals in step with each other.
That this has become an established trend the past decade should give South Jersey residents and businesses confidence in the enduring pillar of their economy.