Defining a successful summer season for the Jersey Shore’s tourism industry used to be straightforward. The favorability of weather, especially on weekends, and the strength of the national economy mainly drove the economic data year to year.
You only have to look back one year, which now seems much longer ago, to see what the best year for New Jersey tourism looked like.
Spending by visitors in 2019 increased about 4% to a record $46.4 billion, according to the annual report by the state Division of Travel and Tourism released early this month. That’s more than 3% of the state economy, sustaining a third of a million jobs.
Atlantic City did its share to break the record with the first full years of operation for its Hard Rock and Ocean casino hotels. Weather at the shore was good too.
More visitors came and with more disposable income to spend, thanks to a booming national economy and record low unemployment rates.
Too bad the COVID-19 pandemic has undermined all that. But if the local leaders, businesses and residents of the Jersey Shore make the best of this temporary setback for the human species, the tourism season might be surprisingly rewarding.
Tourism division Executive Director Jeffrey Vasser, of Linwood, thinks so. “New Jersey is resilient and we are optimistic that despite the impact of COVID-19, our state will continue to thrive once travel resumes,” he said.
Tourism officials are natural boosters, as they should be, but there are reasons to think their optimism is justified in this case.
No. 1 is that past and potential visitors to the Jersey Shore have been cooped up for two months. That’s longer than the traditional 40 days people historically have observed quarantines. They can’t and won’t wait to get out in the world and enjoy life again.
No. 2 is that the shore is an easy drive for tens of millions of people and driving will be the overwhelming choice in transportation for a while. Less chance of contagion in your own car than sharing a plane, train or bus with strangers. The U.S. Travel Association has found that 45% of Americans say they will replace air travel with car trips.
No. 3 is that much of the appeal of the Jersey Shore is outdoors where contagion is much less likely. The beaches and boardwalks will be fine as long as people practice basic social distancing. There’s no risk of getting the coronavirus from swimming in the ocean or a regularly maintained pool.
The main threat to this summer tourism success will be if reopening results in a COVID hotspot. It wouldn’t have to be anywhere near as serious as other well-know hotspots such as North Jersey; Worcester, Mass.; or Gainesville, Ga. Out of town media will make the worst of whatever bad news they can find. Pennsylvania’s governor already is trying to discourage his residents from visiting the shore. As long as any increase in COVID cases is in line with the reopening experiences in similar states and regions, attempts to smear the shore shouldn’t stick.
Everyone at the shore including visitors will have a role in preventing a hotspot and having a good summer.
For starters, potential superspreader events such as concerts won’t be allowed and people should avoid social gatherings that could have the same unfortunate results. Such events have been found at the start of many hotspots globally.
Accommodations should follow the guidelines and standards released by the American Hotel & Lodging Association for keeping guests safe. Besides more cleaning and disinfecting, these will reduce contact between guests and staff.
Pay attention to reports of how pandemic strategies are working at the shore and be prepared to quickly adjust to evidence of vulnerabilities found in practices and procedures.
We think a good summer — one enjoyable for many people and sustaining for businesses and jobs — will depend less on on how officials resolve their conflicting views on reopening and more on the independent actions of everyone at the shore.