While the onslaught of stormwater runoff from Hurricane Irene led to a spike in beach closings in New Jersey last year, inland destinations reaped revenues lost along the shore between August and September. That helped drive a 70 percent increase in tourism revenue, to $38 billion, according to an industry expert.
According to an annual beach report released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the number of closings and advisory days at New Jersey's beaches in 2011 jumped to 131 from 109 in 2010, with Hurricane Irene accounting for 25 pre-emptive closings.
Brian Tyrrell, director of the Center for Hospitality and Tourism Research at Stockton College, said the state's shore communities were "exceeding the pace for breaking the prior year's revenues until the hurricane hit … but for the rest of New Jersey, it was the opposite case."
In Cape May County, tourism revenues increased 8 percent from the previous year between January and July, but fell 5 percent between August and September alone, while inland counties reported much more positive year-to-date growth between those months, Tyrrell said.
"The timing of the hurricane, close to the end of the season, prematurely ended people's summer vacations, which explains why hotel revenue dropped in late August," Tyrrell said. "But the inland hotel properties did better in the month of August than in prior years, and a big part of that was people leaving the shore and needing another place to stay. Moving forward to this summer, shore communities should create relationships with hotels around the beaches and inland, to have them provide emergency shelter during a storm and then get people right back to the beach."
While Tyrrell said there's "not much you can do for the beach" when a storm hits, he said the more localized efforts of the state's destination marketing organizations to increase tourism have started to pay off in the aftermath of disasters.
"I liked what Governor (Chris) Christie did last year, in terms of making it clear the beaches weren't safe before the hurricane hit, but I was more impressed with what he did on the back end of it, saying, 'We're back open for business, so come on back,' with the same amount of effort," Tyrrell said. "It's the type of public relations you need to mitigate the negative effects the weather would have on tourism."
But Tyrrell noted the destination marketing organizations still need a stable source of state funding to grow publicity efforts in the wake of storms.
"The current proposed budget will dedicate funding to the marketing organizations, but they have to wait every year to see if they receive that funding," Tyrrell said. "For the tourism industry, the budget cycle begins after the height of the season is already under way. It's tough to make marketing decisions preparing for it when you don't know what you have to spend."