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N.J. tourism numbers reflect strong bounce back from Hurricane Irene's wrath

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As tourism spots across the state push for a strong ending to the summer, one vital indicator shows every county in New Jersey already has surpassed expectations for the season, an industry expert said.

"Hotel occupancy fee revenue captures that pure tourist, because overnight customers are much more profitable for all aspects of the tourism industry than the day trip visitor. When it's up, it raises the bar for tourism, and we've seen even Hudson and Bergen count(ies) posting solid increases," said Brian Tyrrell, a senior research fellow with the Levinson Institute for Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at Stockton College. "It's really encouraging to see those increases, because it means we'll see increases in retail activity and such, as well."

Statewide, hotel occupancy fee revenue increased nearly 12 percent in June compared to the previous year, with several shore areas like Atlantic County individually reporting spikes as high as 30 percent, Tyrrell said.

Considering the statewide increase from June 2010 to June 2011 was about half that, Tyrrell said tourism "hit new highs last year and it looks like we're on pace to do it again this year."

"Last year, the summer ended prematurely with the onslaught of Hurricane Irene, which showed up in the numbers — though the season as a whole was still strong," Tyrrell said. "Unless something similar happens in nature with the weather, we can expect the numbers to be really positive and everything to be up from last year."

Though hotel occupancy revenue totals for July and August have not yet been reported, Tyrrell said “there’s been a lot of discussion about the fact that individual properties saw a slowdown in the month of July, but then I’m also hearing that things picked back up again in August.”

Tyrrell said the potential year-over-year drop in July revenue can be attributed to the derecho that knocked out power in Atlantic County for a week, as well as the Olympics, since “people spend their leisure time watching them, which historically has impacted tourism numbers.”

But with the otherwise smooth sailing in August, Tyrrell said he expects the summer tourism season to end on a positive note with an uptick from Labor Day.

“The hotels’ performance in the early part of summer set the bar high, but with several counties posting double-digit increases in occupancy revenue since January, it looks like we’ll finish the season stronger this year than we have been,” Tyrrell said.

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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