Slow summer seen so far

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Sandy  Hurricane Sandy

Shore businesses look to fall to save bottom line

Available parking spots, no wait to get a table for dinner, enough room to spread out at the beach. These are normally rarities during the summer’s peak months, but they are becoming more familiar to locals and those on vacation this summer.

According to Cape May County Director of Tourism Diane Weiland, tourism is down between 10 and 20 percent. However, that isn’t because people think the Jersey Shore is closed.

“We do think it’s been a soft summer,” Weiland said last week. “But we can’t blame it all on Sandy.”

A rainy June, the slowly recovering economy, and Sandy’s impact on potential visitors in North Jersey and New York are possibly the cause for weak tourism this summer, Weiland said.

“This is a perfect storm scenario,” she added.

Earlier this year, the state earmarked $25 million in federal Sandy relief fund for tourism marketing. Those funds have paid for the “Stronger than the Storm” campaign, which is designed to promote that the Jersey Shore is open for business.

Now, the “Stronger than the Storm” jingle is almost inescapable, and popular annual events along the Jersey Coast have been deemed “Stronger than the Storm” events to help boost attendance.

“We still continually get calls about how we made out,” Weiland said, but she added that the tourism department’s most recent survey indicated that 87 percent of potential vacationers said that Sandy’s aftermath didn’t impact their decision to come to the Jersey Cape.

So, Weiland said that tourism wasn’t down because the “Stronger than the Storm” message went unheard. Instead, she said that a major part of Cape May County’s prime tourism market-North Jersey and areas of New York- are still dealing with the effects of Hurricane Sandy.

“Our feeder market has been impacted,” she said.

Because of that, Weiland said, the county has been reaching out potential markets that are farther away, like Quebec and past Pittsburgh.

“We can’t just focus on those people who are just a tank of gas away because we know they are hurting,” she said.

Besides Sandy, the economy’s slow recovery is also a factor in the dismal tourism season.

“Tourism is always the last market to recover,” Weiland said. “The recession may be over, but there’s no extra money in people’s pockets.”

She pointed to young professionals, who in the past had more expendable income, but now are buried in student loan debt. Also, she mentioned that the “credit-card” society of the 1990s has now gone, replaced by people more likely to spend only what they have on their debit cards, rather than racking up debt.

“An exotic vacation isn’t exactly in the budget,” she said.

To make budgeting for a vacation easier, Weiland said, the tourism department is encouraging businesses to team up and create package deals for vacationers. These would include a hotel stay, a few meals, and possibly some activities, paid for in one lump sum.

“People want to know exactly how much they are going to spend on a vacation,” she said. “They don’t want any surprises.”

Because of that, and a rainy and cold start to the season, Weiland said that the county is pushing fall tourism even more this year.

“We’re pushing for it because we need every extra day we can get,” she said.

Patrick Rosenello, who owns two boardwalk businesses and is executive director of the Wildwoods Special Boardwalk Improvement and Downtown Improvement districts, said that he also believes business is down between 10 and 20 percent this year.

One major factor of that, he said, was revenue generated by the tram car, which the SID oversees. Even with a fare increase earlier this year, the tram car revenue is down about 10 percent, which Rosenello said meant that ridership is down about 15 percent.

“It appeared that there were peaks and valleys,” Rosenello said about boardwalk business in Wildwood. “Some nights are extremely busy, but overall it’s down.”

He added that his businesses, Captain Jack’s Island Grill and Stewart’s, were also behind last year’s revenue. Like Weiland, Rosenello said he attributed that to poor weather, the economy, and a battered feeder market.

“It was a tough year,” he said. “Operating seasonal businesses are very hard to begin with, but there’s always next summer.”

Christie Rotondo can be emailed at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or you can comment on this story at

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