Atlantic City —
The panelists leading the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey’s annual Jersey Shorecast on May 11 were cautiously optimistic about a strong summer season for Atlantic and Cape May counties’ shore towns.
However, they advised audiences that resort towns need to think outside of one individual town, season, or market to strengthen themselves.
Summer visitors are island hoppers, and according to panelist Joseph Kelly, president of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, promoting an individual destination isn’t targeting the region’s demographics.
“Move your boundaries beyond Atlantic City,” Kelly said. “The customer doesn’t care. We’re the ones drawing the lines... And all of these little boxes have hurt our ability because the customer doesn’t care.
“The customer cares that they can come to a place and have a lot of fun with their family. Maybe
they’ll spend part of it at the beach in Ocean City, maybe they’re coming to Atlantic City for a dinner and some gaming. We’ve got to start thinking like the customer.”
“As gambling numbers have been down, shopping, dining, and other numbers in those areas have been growing, so from a Cape May County Chamber of Commerce information perspective, I can tell you that we consistently see more Atlantic City visitors during the day coming down to see what’s going on,” Vicki Clark, president of the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce, said on the regional marketing strategy.
“We would just like to see more of that,” Clark said. “It’s a real advantage for the region... If we can get people to stay that extra night because there’s something more to see, we want them to do that.”
“What I see when I travel around the state, whether it’s a group or an individual, is that they want options,” Diane Wieland, director of Tourism for Cape May County, said.
Wieland said 26 to 29 percent of Cape May County’s summer visitors went to Atlantic City during their stay.
Panelist Michael Busler, assistant professor, William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy, Richard Stockton College, agreed that Atlantic City was segregated from the rest of southern New Jersey.
Busler said that while efforts were being made to change Atlantic City’s image as a gaming/dining destination, downbeach locations, which draw family vacationers, are in a stronger position than Atlantic City for the summer.
Busler was cautiously optimistic the region would have a stronger summer season than last year, but he told the audience to be prepared if things slowed.
Regionally, Busler said that the fourth quarter of last year’s GDP grew at about 3 percent of the annual rate. The economy’s growth looked like it was slowing, Busler said, and many economic forecasts for the next year were negative.
A lower unemployment rate could contrast the negative predictions, Busler said. Nearly one million more people were employed this summer than last summer, Busler said.
Consumer confidence, while lower than the historic average, is also up from last season, Busler said.
“I think there’s a positive correlation between consumer confidence and the tourism season,” Busler said. “As long as consumers feel good, as long as they don’t perceive that gas prices are outrageous that should encourage a lot of vacationing. Some of the Realtors I talked to told me in February that rentals have really started to be much stronger than they have been.”
“Atlantic County always impacts us, but we’re very optimistic,” Wieland said of summer in Cape May County. “We’re seeing a huge increase in hits on our website, people are calling in... gas prices have been an issue when it was bordering that $4 mark, but we’re finding that gas prices are an issue all year. If you’re spending more in gas, you’re spending more before you even get to your vacation, so we’re one tank of gas away. That’s our message out there. Forty million people live within a 300 mile radius (of Cape May County), so we’re concentrating on that.”
Wieland added that the Canadian market also looked strong this summer because of an improved exchange rate and comparatively lower gas prices in the United States.
She estimated a 5 percent increase in tourism revenue this season.