For the small geographical footprint of New Jersey, the variety of ways a tourist can spend a visit to the Garden State is diverse. Despite the spectrum of cultural, historical and entertainment venues offered, industry leaders are pushing forward a plan to streamline government's involvement and create one cohesive message for the whole state.
After a commission studied tourism in the state, a proposal was made in Gov. Chris Christie's fiscal 2013 budget to move the state's Division of Travel and Tourism under the umbrella of the Sports and Exposition Authority. The sports authority would then switch from being "in, but not of" the Department of Community Affairs to the State Department.
Wayne Hasenbalg, president and CEO of the sports authority, said while the streamlining process is ongoing, he's received nearly unanimous support from government and industry stakeholders alike. The proposal puts all of the coordination of promoting New Jersey under one umbrella, and the sports authority can now take better advantage of the economic development arm of the state while working with Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.
"This is a dual-pronged strategy; it's through tourism and what I call the traditional role that the Division of Travel and Tourism has played," Hasenbalg said. "The second part of it, now that's a new dimension that's going to get added, is the sports and entertainment market. It's not one at the expense of the other — it's both at the same time."
Grace Hanlon, executive director of the Travel and Tourism Division, has already found the sports authority's experience to be helpful in putting together major events, including the Bamboozle festival earlier this month.
"Wayne just makes it happen," Hanlon said. She said within days of being notified of issues surrounding the music festival, she and Hasenbalg were in Asbury Park speaking with organizers and promoters. "We were just purely there … to offer assistance where we could, because Wayne and I can go back and call NJ Transit right away and say 'Listen, they need more trains down to Bamboozle.' "
Hanlon said the cooperation between the two agencies started before the governor's budget address "because we knew it made sense. We were partnered quickly because of Formula One coming, Super Bowl, going after WWE."
Hanlon's agency already has cobbled the resources of regional tourism marketing agencies — called destination marketing organizations, or DMOs — to work together to promote the state. Regional attributes are then highlighted by the local DMOs, like the Meadowlands Liberty Convention and Visitors Bureau or Destination Trenton.
Lori Pepenella is the marketing manager of the Long Beach Island DMO and chair of the New Jersey Destination Marketing Organizations group. Pepenella said the organizations are consistently working together to find new ways to package different regions together and save money on duplicative services.
"We partner up for travel shows," Pepenella said. "Most of the regions come together to staff, provide resources for the Division of Travel and Tourism and their efforts to promote New Jersey."
Both Pepenella and Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Jim Kirkos said the state's most desirable tourists are families within driving distance.
"All of our outbound advertising is targeted at those kind of visitors, bringing them in for a multiday stay," Kirkos said. He added that funding at the DMO level lets "people on the street" tell the story of each destination.
"The DMO directors from across the state do feel there is strength in numbers, that it's our job to promote New Jersey as a whole first and our region secondary, which is something that is really unique," Pepenella said. "There is room for everyone."
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